pen·ance | \ˈpe-nən(t)s \

Definition of penance 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : an act of self-abasement, mortification (see mortification sense 1), 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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Facing your fears, especially in conjunction with penance, was key to Nxivm. Vanessa Grigoriadis, New York Times, "The ‘Sex Cult’ That Preached Empowerment," 30 May 2018 The story goes that the original owner of Villa Centinale was a priest or maybe a bishop, but not a very well-behaved one, so the chapel was put all the way up on the hill, accessible by a very steep climb, as a form of regular penance. Maya Singer, Vogue, "A Weekend Under the Tuscan Sun with Rosetta Getty at the Palio Horse Race," 3 July 2018 Orders of Roman Catholic nuns ran the laundries for profit, and women and girls were put to work there, supposedly as a form of penance. New York Times, "These Women Survived Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. They’re Ready to Talk.," 6 June 2018 Prayers as penance Indeed, Brouillard eventually confessed his transgressions in a 2016 affidavit obtained by an investigator and filed with many of the lawsuits. USA TODAY, "Priest accused in 124 Guam sex abuse cases ages quietly, alone," 5 May 2018 Explanation: As penance for the Tomas Tatar deal, Vegas sends its first-rounder to Detroit, who pairs a Canadian forward with their American defenseman taken at No. Richard Morin, azcentral, "Final NHL mock draft: Major changes in top 10; Coyotes could land Brady Tkachuk," 20 June 2018 Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary loved the old-school penance. Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Lions' Matt Patricia is in danger of losing his players," 8 June 2018 As penance for the Tomas Tatar deal, Vegas sends its first-rounder to Detroit, who pair a Swedish forward with their Canadian defenseman taken at No. Richard Morin, azcentral, "NHL mock draft 2.0: Movement near the top, Arizona Coyotes a wild card at No. 5," 8 June 2018 To the groups of schoolchildren standing around this is a manifestation of American tribute or penance. Siobhán O'grady, Washington Post, "Dennis Rodman might go to Singapore. Here’s the story of his friendship with Kim Jong Un.," 6 June 2018

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.

See More

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


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


see penance entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about penance

Statistics for penance

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for penance

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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 \

Kids Definition of penance

: an act showing sorrow or regret for sin

Keep scrolling for more

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

Comments on penance

What made you want to look up penance? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one that holds something together

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!