pen·​knife ˈpen-ˌnīf How to pronounce penknife (audio)
plural penknives
: a small pocketknife usually with only one blade

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Allen sat next to his attorney calmly cleaning his nails with a penknife. Smithsonian Magazine, 30 Nov. 2022 When the Eagles won the tournament, each boy received a medal and a penknife. Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 27 Dec. 2021 With my penknife’s big blade – There was a little one for cutting tobacco. Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review, 25 Dec. 2020 Lovers, spouses, and rival siblings fling each other off cliffs into the sea or run one another through with penknives. Lidija Haas, Harper's Magazine, 27 Apr. 2020 In one instance he was charged with stabbing a fellow gambler in the abdomen with a penknife. Brian Seibert, New York Times, 18 Dec. 2019 In this sense a penknife is no different from some very complicated factory machine. Vladimir Nabokov, The New Yorker, 8 Nov. 2019 The boys were getting ready to board a bus to a game when two small penknives and a lighter were found in their gear. Talia Richman,, 2 May 2018 The tree was felled 400 or 500 years ago, but scraping away the surface with his penknife, Wohlleben found something astonishing: the stump was still green with chlorophyll. Diàna Markosian, Smithsonian, 22 Feb. 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'penknife.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English; from its original use for mending quill pens

First Known Use

1922, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of penknife was in 1922

Dictionary Entries Near penknife

Cite this Entry

“Penknife.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


pen·​knife ˈpen-ˌnīf How to pronounce penknife (audio)
: a small pocketknife usually with only one blade
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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