sanc·​tion | \ ˈsaŋ(k)-shən How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Definition of sanction

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a formal decree especially : an ecclesiastical decree
2a obsolete : a solemn agreement : oath
b : something that makes an oath binding
3 : the detriment, loss of reward, or coercive intervention annexed to a violation of a law as a means of enforcing the law
4a : a consideration, principle, or influence (as of conscience) that impels to moral action or determines moral judgment
b : a mechanism of social control for enforcing a society's standards
c : explicit or official approval, permission, or ratification : approbation
5 : an economic or military coercive measure adopted usually by several nations in concert for forcing a nation violating international law to desist or yield to adjudication


sanctioned; sanctioning\ ˈsaŋ(k)-​sh(ə-​)niŋ How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Definition of sanction (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to make valid or binding usually by a formal procedure (such as ratification)
2 : to give effective or authoritative approval or consent to … such characters … look, talk, and act in ways sanctioned by society and novelistic tradition …— Lawrence Chua
3a : to attach a sanction or penalty to the violation of (a right, obligation, or command) … the status, procedures, rights, and duties of members are carefully defined by rules that are sanctioned by fines should they be contravened by members.— Malcolm Ruel
b : to impose a sanction or penalty upon … a Long Island brokerage firm that, at the time, had serious Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC fraud charges pending against it and has since been heavily fined and sanctioned.— Molly Ivins

Other Words from sanction


sanctionable \ ˈsaŋ(k)-​sh(ə-​)nə-​bəl How to pronounce sanction (audio) \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for sanction


approve, endorse, sanction, accredit, certify mean to have or express a favorable opinion of. approve often implies no more than this but may suggest considerable esteem or admiration. the parents approve of the marriage endorse suggests an explicit statement of support. publicly endorsed her for Senator sanction implies both approval and authorization. the President sanctioned covert operations accredit and certify usually imply official endorsement attesting to conformity to set standards. the board voted to accredit the college must be certified to teach

Sanction Has Legal Origins

Sanction can be both a verb and a noun meaning "authoritative approval" or "a coercive measure." The noun entered English first, in the 15th century, and originally referred to a formal decree or law, especially an ecclesiastical decree. (The Latin sancire, meaning "to make holy," is an ancestor.) The noun's meaning then extended in different directions. By the end of the 17th century, it could refer to both a means of enforcing a law (a sense that in the 20th century we began using especially for economic penalties against nations violating international law) and the process of formally approving or ratifying a law. When the verb sanction appeared in the 18th century, it had to do with ratifying laws as well. Soon it had also acquired an additional, looser sense: "to approve."

Examples of sanction in a Sentence

Noun The country acted without the sanction of the other nations. Their policy has legal sanction. Verb The government has sanctioned the use of force. His actions were not sanctioned by his superiors.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun There was definitely some recutting that David did not sanction. Keaton Bell, Vogue, 27 Apr. 2022 But the initial contact between USSS and the SafeSport Center did not result in any sanction for Foley by the center. Eddie Pells, Anchorage Daily News, 14 Apr. 2022 Professor Halperin has the right to express herself, inside the classroom and out, without fear of sanction or censure. Michael Poliakoff, Forbes, 12 Apr. 2022 Captive-audience meetings are one of many sketchy management practices that didn’t acquire legal sanction until passage in 1947 of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 8 Apr. 2022 Any sanction by Oregon regulators must ultimately be approved by the commission’s seven-member board and would be subject to subsequent challenge in court. oregonlive, 7 Apr. 2022 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the latest sanctions package seeks to ban Russian coal imports, sanction four Russian banks and ban Russian vessels from E.U. ports, among other measures. Washington Post, 1 Apr. 2022 And no sanction comes without collateral damage, Conor Friedersdorf writes. The Atlantic, 1 Apr. 2022 In the years preceding its invasion of Ukraine, Russia set out to sanction-proof its economy by developing local substitutes for key foreign products, such as microprocessors. Greg Ip, WSJ, 18 Mar. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Winner had used Bob Baffert as one of his trainers and cries of conflict of interest were levied against Winner when the Board did not sanction Baffert, even though the positive was because of feed contamination. Los Angeles Times, 24 Mar. 2022 Vladimir Putin had a very pointed way of summing up the international efforts to sanction his country for its invasion of Ukraine. Washington Post, 24 Mar. 2022 International efforts to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine have magnified a long-running dilemma for the European Union: Its attempts to wean itself from coal have left it more reliant on Moscow for natural gas. Josh Ulick, WSJ, 13 Mar. 2022 The clinics warned that those officials could sanction providers for facilitating abortions outlawed by the ban. Tierney Sneed, CNN, 11 Mar. 2022 Each decides when to recuse himself or herself from a case and no internal process exists to sanction a justice's failure to sit out a case. Joan Biskupic, CNN, 30 Mar. 2022 Zelensky also asked the U.S. to sanction every Russian politician and widen the economic dragnet. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, 16 Mar. 2022 The first move was made by Western governments to sanction the country’s banking system. Liz Hoffman, WSJ, 4 Mar. 2022 The open call to the game industry comes as governments and corporations around the world are responding to the invasion by taking significant steps to sanction Russia and cripple its economy. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, 3 Mar. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of sanction


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1778, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sanction


Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin sanction-, sanctio, from sancire to make holy — more at sacred

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The first known use of sanction was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

15 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Sanction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for sanction


sanc·​tion | \ ˈsaŋk-shən How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Kids Definition of sanction

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : official approval or permission The soldiers' conduct did not have the king's sanction.
2 : an action (as the ending of financial aid) taken by one or more nations to make another nation comply with a law or rule


sanctioned; sanctioning

Kids Definition of sanction (Entry 2 of 2)

: to officially accept or allow The coaches sanctioned the new rule.


sanc·​tion | \ ˈsaŋk-shən How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Legal Definition of sanction

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a punitive or coercive measure or action that results from failure to comply with a law, rule, or order a sanction for contempt
2 : explicit or official approval
3 : an economic or military coercive measure adopted usually by several nations in concert for forcing a nation violating international law to desist or yield to adjudication


transitive verb

Legal Definition of sanction (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to give official approval or consent to : ratify
2 : to impose a sanction on sanctioned the lawyer for professional misconduct

More from Merriam-Webster on sanction

Nglish: Translation of sanction for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sanction for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about sanction


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