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

Did You Know?

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 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,, "Too close for comfort, and the virus, in Russia’s communal apartments," 13 June 2020 Parliament promptly impeached Coke’s chief adversary, Francis Bacon, the Lord Chancellor, for bribery; Bacon was convicted, removed from office, and reduced to penury. Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, "The Invention—and Reinvention—of Impeachment," 21 Oct. 2019 This is also where Tubman died in penury of pneumonia on March 10, 1913, at an age somewhere between 88 and 98 years old (records are unclear). Morgan Hines, USA TODAY, "'Harriet' is in theaters. Here's where you can learn about Harriet Tubman in real life," 4 Nov. 2019 Since the landowner is more wealthy than the plaintiff, by California law the jury may automatically find the landowner at fault, and he or she is driven into penury. Letters To The Editor, The Mercury News, "Letter: Mountain View residents wise to avoid RV-dweller plan," 12 Sep. 2019 Investors see Mr Macri as the best chance of reform and they are terrified by a return to the populism of Ms Fernández, whose presidency between 2007 and 2015 left Argentina in penury. The Economist, "A stunning reversal for Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri," 12 Aug. 2019 The state’s penury weakens a police force already compromised by corruption. The Economist, "Mourning MarielleLessons from a murder in Rio de Janeiro," 22 Mar. 2018 The penury of workers has led several retailers to raise wages and benefits. Phil Wahba, Fortune, "Home Depot and Lowe's Are Hiring 130,000 Temps for the Spring Rush," 14 Feb. 2018 Today government benefits and pension payments spare people the horrible choice between moving or penury. The Economist, "Left in the lurchGlobalisation has marginalised many regions in the rich world," 21 Oct. 2017

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

17 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Penury.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jul. 2020.

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English Language Learners Definition of penury

formal : the state of being very poor : extreme poverty

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More from Merriam-Webster on penury

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Spanish Central: Translation of penury

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