pen·​al·​ty | \ ˈpe-nᵊl-tē How to pronounce penalty (audio) \
plural penalties

Definition of penalty

1 : the suffering in person, rights, or property that is annexed by law or judicial decision to the commission of a crime or public offense trespassing forbidden under penalty of imprisonment
2 : the suffering or the sum to be forfeited to which a person agrees to be subjected in case of nonfulfillment of stipulations A penalty was imposed on the contractor for breach of contract.
3a : disadvantage, loss, or hardship due to some action Loss of privacy is one of the penalties you pay for fame.
b : a disadvantage (such as loss of yardage, time, or possession of the ball or an addition to or subtraction from the score) imposed on a team or competitor for violation of the rules of a sport The team was given a penalty for the foul.
4 : points scored in bridge by the side that defeats the opposing contract usually used in plural

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Other Words from penalty

penalty adjective

Examples of penalty in a Sentence

The company was given a severe penalty for the violation. They allowed him to pay back the money without a penalty. They allowed him to pay back the money without penalty. Lack of privacy is one of the penalties you pay for fame. The hockey player was given a penalty for holding.
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Recent Examples on the Web Nine minutes later, Lincoln Oertling’s 30-plus yard shot was saved by Morales, but the play of the match came via penalty. Joseph Halm,, "Allen Raimer's saves day for PJP II in scoreless tie vs. Northlake," 16 Jan. 2021 Anti-death penalty groups said Trump pushed for executions prior to the November election in a cynical bid to burnish a reputation as a law-and-order leader. Michael Tarm And Heather Hollingsworth, Star Tribune, "US carries out its 1st execution of female inmate since 1953," 13 Jan. 2021 Montgomery's execution was the latest of several last-minute death penalty sentences to be carried out in the waning days of the Trump administration. Nicholas Rowan, Washington Examiner, "Federal government executes first woman in 67 years after Supreme Court intervenes," 13 Jan. 2021 That penalty has never been imposed on an American president, but other countries have done it. Washington Post, "Ban Trump from running again? That’s been tried elsewhere — with mixed results," 13 Jan. 2021 Anti-death penalty groups said President Donald Trump was pushing for executions prior to the November election in a cynical bid to burnish a reputation as a law-and-order leader. Heather Hollingsworth, USA TODAY, "First US execution of female inmate in 67 years halted," 12 Jan. 2021 Death penalty advocates most frequently focus on deterrence – but as research including my own work shows, it has not been shown to be effective. David P. Barash, The Conversation, "Executions don’t deter murder, despite the Trump administration’s push," 12 Jan. 2021 Ohio State turned that penalty into a 23-yard field goal for Jake Seibert to cut Alabama’s lead to 21-17 with five minutes left in the first half. Stephen Means, cleveland, "Alabama’s Jordan Battle ejected from National Championship Game for targeting after hit on Ohio State football’s Jeremy Ruckert," 11 Jan. 2021 Yet despite penalty numbers being way down, pass interference calls increased. Ben Volin,, "A deeper look at the top trends and year-end awards for the 2020 NFL season," 9 Jan. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'penalty.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of penalty

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for penalty

Middle English penalte, from Middle French penalité, from Medieval Latin poenalitas, from Latin poenalis

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Time Traveler for penalty

Time Traveler

The first known use of penalty was in the 15th century

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Statistics for penalty

Last Updated

22 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Penalty.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for penalty


How to pronounce penalty (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of penalty

: punishment for breaking a rule or law
: a disadvantage or difficulty you experience
: a punishment or disadvantage given to a team or player for breaking a rule in a game


pen·​al·​ty | \ ˈpe-nᵊl-tē How to pronounce penalty (audio) \
plural penalties

Kids Definition of penalty

1 : punishment for doing something wrong
2 : a disadvantage given for breaking a rule in a sport or game


pen·​al·​ty | \ ˈpen-ᵊl-tē How to pronounce penalty (audio) \
plural penalties

Legal Definition of penalty

1 : a punishment that is imposed on a wrongdoer by statute or judicial decision
2 : a pecuniary sum that by agreement is to be paid by a party who fails to fulfill an obligation to another and that is punitive rather than compensatory the court declined to enforce the contractual penalty and determined actual damages instead

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