pen·​i·​tence ˈpe-nə-tən(t)s How to pronounce penitence (audio)
: the quality or state of being penitent : sorrow for sins or faults
Forgiveness requires penitence.
Choose the Right Synonym for penitence

penitence, repentance, contrition, compunction, remorse mean regret for sin or wrongdoing.

penitence implies sad and humble realization of and regret for one's misdeeds.

absolution is dependent upon sincere penitence

repentance adds the implication of a resolve to change.

repentance accompanied by a complete change of character

contrition stresses the sorrowful regret that constitutes true penitence.

tearful expressions of contrition

compunction implies a painful sting of conscience especially for contemplated wrongdoing.

had no compunctions about taking back what is mine

remorse suggests prolonged and insistent self-reproach and mental anguish for past wrongs and especially for those whose consequences cannot be remedied.

thieves untroubled by feelings of remorse

Examples of penitence in a Sentence

the sincerity of the player's penitence is questionable—he began to express remorse only after the suspension was handed down
Recent Examples on the Web In many religions, the sacrifice of hair can signal penitence. Vanessa Friedman, New York Times, 27 Oct. 2023 An attempt by one German activist to shift attention to Russia’s current war showed just how ingrained the traditional focus on World War II penitence has become. Ekaterina Bodyagina, New York Times, 28 Apr. 2023 Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the last day of indulgence allowed before the period of fasting and penitence. al, 22 Feb. 2023 Guilt, confession, penitence — this legacy vocabulary of criminal justice calls back to a time when confinement was about reform and salvation, before modern punishment turned exclusively on physical torture, the amateur savagery of shower-rape jokes, random beat-downs, the cruelty of solitary. New York Times, 7 June 2022 But now their penitence is over. Thomas Biesheuvel, Dinesh Nair and Jack Farchy, Anchorage Daily News, 17 Jan. 2023 The book’s concluding chapter is an act of duty and penitence, a reminiscence of a man named Floyd Ray Wilson, a Black man who dated the best friend of Tarantino’s mother and, years later, rented a room from Tarantino’s mother. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 4 Nov. 2022 Rosh Hashanah begins a 10-day period of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur, which was marked on Oct. 4 and 5, with candle-lighting services. Steve Smith, Hartford Courant, 5 Oct. 2022 Rosh Hashana is marked by the blowing of the shofar in synagogue and begins the 10 days of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur. Sherry Greenfield, Baltimore Sun, 4 Oct. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'penitence.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French penitance, from Medieval Latin poenitentia, alteration of Latin paenitentia regret, from paenitent-, paenitens, present participle

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of penitence was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near penitence

Cite this Entry

“Penitence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


pen·​i·​tence ˈpen-ə-tən(t)s How to pronounce penitence (audio)
: sorrow for one's sins or faults : repentance
penitently adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on penitence

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