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

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

Noun He did charitable work as a penance.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Another piece depicts a veker, the traditional town crier who wakes the devoted at dawn for morning penance, holding a lantern at a window, also with no arms. Avital Chizhik-goldschmidt, The Atlantic, 24 Sep. 2021 No, that would imply that America is not exceptional; that all of us have some penance to perform for what’s been wrought in our name. Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, 16 Aug. 2021 Even in the rare instances where victims secure financial penance, there remains an element of inadequacy. Jasper Craven, The New Republic, 28 June 2021 That may be slowly changing as the network of CCS/Chademo chargers, mostly being built by Electrify America as Volkswagen’s penance for Dieselgate, is growing to a good size. Brad Templeton, Forbes, 24 June 2021 Perhaps each one of us could make a list and share it among friends as a challenge and a penance and a celebration, too. Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review, 28 June 2021 In all of the months leading up to the Wallen incident and after, there has been no corporate penance. Andrea Williams, Vulture, 28 June 2021 In that sense, cooking for my sister-in-law felt more like penance than a good deed. Kaila Yu, Glamour, 26 May 2021 Rather than show penance for her vote, and unlike other GOP leaders in Congress, Cheney has refused to either buy into the false reality that the election was stolen from Trump or quietly tolerate it. Melissa Macaya, CNN, 12 May 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb That’s where dynasty can be its most troubling: the inevitable comparisons to the forefathers and often penance for their political crimes. Philip Elliott, Time, 11 Aug. 2021

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

Noun and Verb

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About penance

Time Traveler for penance

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near penance

penalty stroke



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for penance

Last Updated

17 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Penance.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Oct. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon
Seen & Heard
People are talking about

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 How to pronounce penance (audio) \

Kids Definition of penance

: an act showing sorrow or regret for sin

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something 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!