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noun (1)

: an offense against religious or moral law
: an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible
it's a sin to waste food
: an often serious shortcoming : fault
: transgression of the law of God
: a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God


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sinned; sinning

intransitive verb

: to commit a sin
: to commit an offense or fault


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noun (2)

ˈsēn How to pronounce sin (audio)
: the 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet see Alphabet Table


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More on the Meaning of Sin

The word sin has been in use for well over a thousand years. Our current form of the word comes from the Middle English sinne, which is itself from the Old English syn. The original meanings of sin were largely concerned with religious matters ("an offense against religious or moral law"; "a transgression of the law of God"; "a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God"), as they still are today.

Sin does, however, have weakened, non-religious meanings. In its "an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible" meaning it is still a weighty word; it refers to actions of a kind that are likely to be strongly condemned. Far weaker is its "an often serious shortcoming" meaning, which can jokingly apply to a harmless act like eating one dessert too many, or can be paired with another word to refer to a failing of one kind or another, as in "literary/grammatical sins."

The word sinful, although it is most often found used in reference to behavior that is in some way wicked, may also be found denoting activities which are quite enjoyable (although still possibly guilt-inducing), such as eating "a sinful dessert."

Sin is also used in a fair number of compound nouns, some of which allow shades of sinfulness: a venial sin is much less serious than a mortal sin.

If you find yourself in need of a word with which to describe behavior or inclinations that are in some way questionable, but feel that sin is too strong a word, the English language has a wealth of options available. The Latin word peccare (“to sin”) has given rise to a number of English words that deal with sin, but which have less fire and brimstone in their meanings. We have peccadillo (“a slight offense”), peccable (which may mean either “liable to sin” or “susceptible to temptation”), and peccant (“violating a principle or rule, as of taste or propriety”).

Choose the Right Synonym for sin

offense, sin, vice, crime, scandal mean a transgression of law.

offense applies to the infraction of any law, rule, or code.

at that school no offense went unpunished

sin implies an offense against moral or religious law.

the sin of blasphemy

vice applies to a habit or practice that degrades or corrupts.

regarded gambling as a vice

crime implies a serious offense punishable by the law of the state.

the crime of murder

scandal applies to an offense that outrages the public conscience.

a career ruined by a sex scandal

Examples of sin in a Sentence

Verb Forgive me, for I have sinned. bless me, Father, for I have sinned
Recent Examples on the Web
For centuries, the ritual has symbolized a casting-off of one’s sins of the past year, clearing the path for a fresh start as a new one gets underway. Jonathan M. Pitts, Baltimore Sun, 15 Sep. 2023 During Rosh Hashana, others may also pray near a body of water in a Tashlich ceremony, in addition to tossing pieces of bread or other food into the water to symbolize sending off sins. Ana Rocío Álvarez Bríñez, The Courier-Journal, 9 Sep. 2023 The issue is that the Catholic Church believes that homosexuality or changing one’s biological gender is a sin. cleveland, 12 Sep. 2023 No one who toed the rubber for the Rangers in this three-part horror series that ended with the Astros’ humiliating 12-3 beat-down of their Lone Star rivals was without sin. Kevin Sherrington, Dallas News, 7 Sep. 2023 The bigger sin was misunderstanding who the Pac-12 should actually be competing against. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, 11 Aug. 2023 The ritual is about symbolically casting away sins, and people often throw bread crumbs into the water to symbolize casting off the sins and letting the water wash them away. Alesandra Dubin, Country Living, 29 Aug. 2023 She was accustomed to the occasional angry parent stopping her in a parking lot and haranguing her for promoting sin. Greg Jaffe and Patrick Marley, Anchorage Daily News, 27 Aug. 2023 Ancient Roman poet Prudentius even blames a bifurcated tongue as the very origin of sin. Parizaad Khan Sethi, Allure, 24 Aug. 2023
Gregory of Nyssa, contemplating the Christian horror of concupiscence, once theorized that had not Adam and Eve sinned, the two of them would have remained virgins and reproduced in whatever way angels did. David Harsanyi, National Review, 8 June 2023 An unknown individual or individuals entered a retail business sin the 2200 block of Willow Road, took food and household items and left the store without paying April 3. Steve Sadin, Chicago Tribune, 10 Apr. 2023 To, in other words, grievously sin. Alex Morris, Rolling Stone, 18 June 2022 Yet it could be argued that Abraham, by acting to improve his situation, did not sin. Rabbi Avi Weiss,, 4 Oct. 2021 The writer framed one of the most famous incidents in his epic poem—the tragic story of real-life lovers Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Polenta—as a cautionary tale against succumbing to sin. John-Paul Heil, Smithsonian Magazine, 3 Nov. 2021 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Karla Pope, Good Housekeeping, 21 Feb. 2023 Or, to interpret the overly charitable praise of the America reviewer: to sin shamelessly. Armond White, National Review, 10 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sin.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun (1)

Middle English sinne, from Old English synn; akin to Old High German sunta sin and probably to Latin sont-, sons guilty, est is — more at is

Noun (2)

Hebrew śin

First Known Use

Noun (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (2)

circa 1823, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of sin was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near sin

Cite this Entry

“Sin.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
: a breaking of a moral law
: an action that is or is felt to be bad


2 of 2 verb
sinned; sinning
: to commit a sin

More from Merriam-Webster on sin

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