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pen·​i·​tent ˈpe-nə-tənt How to pronounce penitent (audio)
: feeling or expressing humble or regretful pain or sorrow for sins or offenses : repentant
penitently adverb


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: a person who repents of sin
: a person under church censure but admitted to penance or reconciliation especially under the direction of a confessor

Examples of penitent in a Sentence

Adjective a penitent gossip who had come to ask for forgiveness
Recent Examples on the Web
Then Morrison introduced a bill to remove clergy-penitent privilege from the state's law on mandatory abuse reporting. Sophie Carson, Journal Sentinel, 24 Mar. 2023 Even when someone is truly sorry and penitent. Vicky Spratt,, 16 July 2021 In the wake of the AP's investigation last year, Republican state Rep. Phil Lyman and Democratic Rep. Angela Romero announced plans to reform Utah's clergy-penitent privilege loophole. Sam Metz, ajc, 1 Mar. 2023 But with Cash on the vocals, the song and the man singing are nearly penitent. Stephanie Kaloi,, 16 Dec. 2022 Her husband’s sudden, violent reaction to the joke, and his subsequent Best Actor speech that bobbed and weaved over the line between defiant and penitent, swallowed the rest of the night whole. Caroline Framke, Variety, 27 Mar. 2022 However, lawmakers returned six years later to reinstate the clergy-penitent privilege. Arizona Republic, 21 Apr. 2020 Even if absolution is denied, though, the exchange between penitent and confessor is to remain confidential. San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Aug. 2019 As with McBride’s voice-over, which Pitt delivers in intimate tones — like a lover or penitent whispering confidences in your ear — the helmet alternately reveals and obscures the character, putting the narrative dynamic into visual terms. New York Times, 20 Sep. 2019
Francis journeyed to Iraq not only as a pastor but as a penitent. Victor Gaetan, Foreign Affairs, 12 Mar. 2021 Live: Israeli medics say 2 killed in Palestinian attack in West Bank Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick or for a better life, and give thanks for miracles. Jim Gomez, USA TODAY, 7 Apr. 2023 Wisconsin is among 33 states with laws that protect conversations between clergy and penitents, or those confessing their sins, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Sophie Carson, Journal Sentinel, 24 Mar. 2023 Carmela never fired a gun or discovered where, exactly, the money came from, and yet the portrait of penitent immorality resonated with viewers eager to plumb the nitty-gritty, hypocritical contradictions of the character. Hazlitt, 4 Jan. 2023 Smith plays Peter as a man of faith, penitent to his god, but defiant of men. Peter Debruge, Variety, 30 Nov. 2022 This clergy-penitent privilege is on the books in 33 states, including Utah, the AP found. The Salt Lake Tribune, 23 Dec. 2022 Father Gigante refused to give straight answers, saying he was exempted by priest-penitent confidentiality. Robert D. McFadden, New York Times, 23 Oct. 2022 Even if cats weren’t always as appreciated as other pets (the Romans had a penitent for lap dogs, for example), cats still conquered one famous piece of ancient Roman history. Joshua Rapp Learn, Discover Magazine, 16 Sep. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'penitent.' 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 Middle French & Latin; Middle French penitent, from Latin paenitent-, paenitens, from present participle of paenitēre to cause regret, feel regret, perhaps from paene almost

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined above


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near penitent

Cite this Entry

“Penitent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a person who repents or is doing penance

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