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 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

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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

In July, Francis ordered McCarrick, 88, to observe a lifetime of penance and prayer pending the outcome of a canonical trial into the groping allegation involving a teenage altar boy in the 1970s. Nicole Winfield, The Seattle Times, "Pope to meet US bishops Thursday over abuse scandal," 11 Sep. 2018 Baker, 36, agrees to this probationary guardianship as penance for a recent on-the-job transgression: assaulting a callous teenage murderer. Tom Nolan, WSJ, "Mysteries: The Thriller as Quest for Solace," 8 Nov. 2018 On cue, Exxon Mobil last week pledged $1 million as political penance to promote a carbon tax, which the company knows would be passed onto consumers. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "The U.N.’s Doomsday Climate Clock," 15 Oct. 2018 Irish cuisine has long been the fodder of jokes — a kind of penance to suffer through in order to enjoy the people, music and lush scenery of the Emerald Isle. Rick Steves' Europe, The Seattle Times, "In Ireland, a growing menu of culinary delights," 21 Aug. 2018 As penance for the diesel emissions scandal, parent VW Group is building out a country-wide network of 500 DC fast-charging stations that will feed the e-tron's battery at 150kW, taking it from empty to eighty (percent) in about 30 minutes. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, "The coolest tech in Audi’s new e-tron electric SUV is banned in the US," 18 Sep. 2018 Francis in July ordered McCarrick, 88, to a lifetime of penance and prayer pending the outcome of a canonical trial into the groping allegation involving a teenage altar boy in the 1970s. Frank Miles, Fox News, "Pope to meet with head of US Bishops' Conference over sex abuse, cover-up scandal," 12 Sep. 2018 Rosh Hashanah also begins the High Holidays — a special period of celebration and penance, feasting and fasting, and lots of prayer. Joshua Eaton, Teen Vogue, "Everything You Need to Know About Rosh Hashanah," 10 Sep. 2018 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

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

21 Mar 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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