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

Noun He did charitable work as a penance.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Quakers used isolation as a means of purification through introspective prayer — a form of penance. Special To The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, "Feds ban solitary confinement for kids in prison, but state juvenile facilities still use isolation," 8 Sep. 2020 One historical example is Pepin the Short, Charlemagne’s father, who reportedly asked to be buried face-down in front of a cathedral in 768 as penance for his father’s sins. Andrew Curry, National Geographic, "Medieval pandemics spawned fears of the undead, burials reveal," 2 Sep. 2020 Then, because of how upset the rest of the team was with their lack of responsibility and truthfulness, their penance could be extended or they could even be traded. cleveland, "Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac pass time at Classic Park: Crowquill," 23 Aug. 2020 The organization launching Denver’s second tiny-home village for the homeless has sped up the project with help from an unexpected partner — a construction firm paying penance for its role in the city’s convention center bid-rigging scandal. Jon Murray, The Denver Post, "Construction starts on Denver’s second tiny-home village, aided by company tied to bid-rigging scandal," 28 July 2020 The Vatican eventually ordered him in 2006 to live a life of prayer and penance for raping his seminarians. Washington Post, "Founder of German Schoenstatt Movement accused of abuses," 2 July 2020 Apparently his penance is to espouse anti-science, anti-women venom. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, "Ex-Detroit Tiger Aubrey Huff's anti-mask screed is another reason we're in trouble," 18 June 2020 But for many Austinites, the chief's comments were little more than performative penance, a disingenuous exercise in deflecting blame. Peter Holley, Houston Chronicle, "In liberal Austin, protests unleash violence - and then an identity crisis," 6 June 2020 Thankfully, as penance, two of them take the little ones up for their bath. Felicity enters the kitchen and begs for a Negroni. Stanley Tucci, The Atlantic, "Cooking Your Way Through the Pandemic," 15 May 2020

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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Time Traveler for penance

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for penance

Last Updated

22 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Penance.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for penance


How to pronounce penance (audio)

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

Nglish: Translation of penance for Spanish Speakers

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

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