pen·​ance | \ ˈpe-nən(t)s How to pronounce penance (audio) \

Definition of penance

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : an act of self-abasement, mortification (see mortification sense 3), or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin He did charitable work as a penance.
2 : a sacramental rite that is practiced in Roman, Eastern, and some Anglican churches and that consists of private confession, absolution, and a penance directed by the confessor (see confessor sense 3a)
3 : something (such as a hardship or penalty) resembling an act of penance (as in compensating for an offense) who go on cheap camping trips instead of real vacations as a kind of penance— Judith Thurman


penanced; penancing

Definition of penance (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to impose penance on

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How Should You Use penance?

Penance as a form of apology for a mistake can be either voluntary or ordered by someone else. Many religions include penance among the ways in which believers can show repentance or regret for a misdeed. The Christian season of Lent, 40 days long, is traditionally a time for doing penance.

Examples of penance in a Sentence


He did charitable work as a penance.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Now this is her penance: wake after wake, mother after mother, trying to spare them the solitary torment that almost killed her. Claire Galofaro, The Seattle Times, "Moms of the dead from drugs: “Where is the outrage for us?”," 29 Jan. 2019 If 2017 was about accusations and denials, penance and penalties, then 2018 could also be about backlash and pushback. Maria Puente, USA TODAY, "Sexual-harassment reckoning: In 2018, more backlash and pushback?," 12 Jan. 2018 In the early church, public confession was the norm, and penance involved public displays of reform, such as fasting, alms-giving and prayer. San Diego Union-Tribune, "‘I confess': should the ‘seal of the confessional’ protect pedophiles?," 4 Aug. 2019 Confession, also known as penance or reconciliation, is most closely associated with the church of Rome, yet Episcopalians, Lutherans, Mormons and adherents of other faiths have similar rites. San Diego Union-Tribune, "‘I confess': should the ‘seal of the confessional’ protect pedophiles?," 4 Aug. 2019 AP Photo/Oded Balilty Lessons for the United States Instead of seeking to wipe the Holocaust from its history, the German government has worked hard to ensure remembrance, penance, recompense, and justice. Bernd Reiter, Quartz, "What US slavery reparations and post-Holocaust Germany have in common," 2 Aug. 2019 So the Aston Martin on the auction block in August 2018 — along with his 1958 Porsche and his 1971 Mercedes-Benz — was a penance of sorts, helping to fulfill that obligation and provide restitution to victims. Teri Sforza, The Mercury News, "California man behind $1 billion spinal surgery fraud hid millions from government, DOJ says," 29 July 2019 Like Landis, most of these people were blacklisted and suffered a twisted penance, battling depression, substance abuse, or both. Marc Peruzzi, Outside Online, "Floyd Landis Still Has a Lot to Say," 19 July 2019 Since retiring, Yuan has dedicated her life to treating families struggling with infertility, as a kind of spiritual penance. Brandon Yu, The Atlantic, "One Child Nation Paints a Harrowing Picture of an Infamous Policy," 13 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'penance.' 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 penance


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1580, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for penance

Noun and Verb

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin poenitentia penitence

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Statistics for penance

Last Updated

3 Oct 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for penance

The first known use of penance was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for penance



English Language Learners Definition of penance

: something that you do or are given to do in order to show that you are sad or sorry about doing something wrong


pen·​ance | \ ˈpe-nəns How to pronounce penance (audio) \

Kids Definition of penance

: an act showing sorrow or regret for sin

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More from Merriam-Webster on penance

Spanish Central: Translation of penance

Nglish: Translation of penance for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of penance for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about penance

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