pen·​u·​ry | \ ˈpen-yə-rē How to pronounce penury (audio) \

Definition of penury

1 : a cramping and oppressive lack of resources (such as money) especially : severe poverty
2 : extreme and often stingy frugality

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Choose the Right Synonym for penury

poverty, indigence, penury, want, destitution mean the state of one with insufficient resources. poverty may cover a range from extreme want of necessities to an absence of material comforts. the extreme poverty of the slum dwellers indigence implies seriously straitened circumstances. the indigence of her years as a graduate student penury suggests a cramping or oppressive lack of money. a catastrophic illness that condemned them to years of penury want and destitution imply extreme poverty that threatens life itself through starvation or exposure. lived in a perpetual state of want the widespread destitution in countries beset by famine

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The exact meaning of "penury" (from Latin penuria, meaning "want") can vary a bit from context to context. It sometimes has had a broad sense of "lack" or "scarcity," as when one character remarks on another's "penury of conversation" in Jane Austen's Emma. It can also mean "frugality," as in Edith Wharton's description of an excessively thrifty hostess in The Age of Innocence: "Her relatives considered that the penury of her table discredited the Mingott name, which had always been associated with good living." The most common sense of "penury," however, is simply "poverty," as in Shakespeare's As You Like It: "Shall I keep your hogs, and eat husks with them? What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury?"

Examples of penury in a Sentence

lived in a time when single women like herself faced a lifetime of genteel penury
Recent Examples on the Web For some, that event cannot be anything less than Meghan’s divorce, humiliation and penury. Aida Amoako,, 11 June 2021 The military had led the country since a 1962 coup, driving it into penury. New York Times, 12 Apr. 2021 By the World Bank’s estimate, some 800m people in China have escaped penury in the past four decades. The Economist, 30 Dec. 2020 The village of Guaca was once at the center of Venezuela’s fish processing industry but is now reduced to penury by the lack of gasoline and the closure of most of its small fish-packing plants. New York Times, 12 Dec. 2020 The same was true of his odd combination of penury and generosity. Aljean Harmetz, New York Times, 31 Oct. 2020 Will those bearing heavy economic costs see anything in return for their penury? John Loftus, National Review, 5 Oct. 2020 The evil twins, pandemic and penury, have turned my Bucket List into a Shot Glass List. Washington Post, 17 July 2020 The resulting communal apartments, of which about 69,000 remain today, accounting for as much as 40 percent of the residential real estate in central St. Petersburg, became a blend of architectural opulence and everyday penury. Andrew E. Kramer,, 13 June 2020

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

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First Known Use of penury

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for penury

Middle English, from Latin penuria, paenuria want; perhaps akin to Latin paene almost

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Time Traveler for penury

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

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Last Updated

18 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Penury.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jun. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of penury

formal : the state of being very poor : extreme poverty

More from Merriam-Webster on penury

Nglish: Translation of penury for Spanish Speakers


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