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pen·​ance ˈpe-nən(t)s How to pronounce penance (audio)
: 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.
: 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)
: 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 penanceJudith Thurman


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penanced; penancing

transitive verb

: to impose penance on

Did you know?

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.

Example Sentences

Noun He did charitable work as a penance.
Recent Examples on the Web
As part of his 12 labors of penance, Barentine explains, Hercules was forced to steal the golden apples of the Hesperides. Eric Betz, Discover Magazine, 18 Apr. 2017 For Lee, his journey through the virtual meat mixer can be read as an act of penance. Lewis Gordon, Vulture, 2 Dec. 2022 The Biden Administration’s surrender shows again that the religion of climate change is progressive penance for the sin of being prosperous. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 20 Nov. 2022 Iowa, meanwhile, would get booted back in the pack, partly as penance for its blown tech experiment of a caucus in 2020. Philip Elliott, Time, 5 Dec. 2022 Bobby, who shoulders the blame for his sister’s death and for his nation’s war crimes, anticipates any suffering as fitting penance. Maggie Doherty, The New Republic, 29 Nov. 2022 FanDuel had paid similar penance in July, and several others would do so in the coming months. Joe Drape, New York Times, 20 Nov. 2022 The early Christian church developed what became the Sacrament of Reconciliation: confession, and penance. Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, 7 Nov. 2022 His entertaining and instructive book offers due penance. Andrew Crumey, WSJ, 6 Oct. 2022
Volkswagen was in the game early, funding Electrify America as part of it penance for deceiving regulators about diesel emissions. Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press, 17 Aug. 2022 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 See More

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.

Word History


Noun and Verb

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

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1580, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near penance

Cite this Entry

“Penance.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


: an act showing sorrow or regret for sin
: a sacrament consisting of regret for sin, confession to a priest, an act showing sorrow or regret ordered by the confessor, and forgiveness

More from Merriam-Webster on penance

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