un·​law·​ful | \ ˌən-ˈlȯ-fəl How to pronounce unlawful (audio) \

Definition of unlawful

1 : not lawful : illegal
2 : not morally right or conventional

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Other Words from unlawful

unlawfully \ ˌən-​ˈlȯ-​f(ə-​)lē How to pronounce unlawfully (audio) \ adverb
unlawfulness \ ˌən-​ˈlȯ-​fəl-​nəs How to pronounce unlawfulness (audio) \ noun

Examples of unlawful in a Sentence

The sale of alcohol to minors is unlawful. it is unlawful to set off fireworks within the city limits

Recent Examples on the Web

Ledbetter was denied her millions of dollars in back pay because (at the time) the law stated that an employee must file a complaint within 180 days of their first unlawful paycheck. Emily Farra, Vogue, "21 Reasons to Wear Red for Equal Pay Day," 2 Apr. 2019 Plus, the company had done some unlawful tests with weather balloons and other equipment before the launch. Loren Grush, The Verge, "FCC slams spaceflight company with $900,000 fine over illegal satellite launch," 20 Dec. 2018 Waggener was charged with malicious harassment, unlawful imprisonment and fourth-degree assault after his arrest last week, the Centralia Chronicle reports. Jared Gilmour, sacbee, "Man made Spanish-speaking 'slave' neighbors pledge allegiance to the flag on video, cops say," 6 June 2018 Two were arraigned on three counts of unlawful imprisonment and one count of impersonating a peace officer to commit a crime, and a third person was being extradited back to the county, according to the Flint Journal. Scott Berson, charlotteobserver, "They cuffed people and wrote police reports - but they weren't real cops, Michigan police say," 1 June 2018 Four suspects have been arrested and charged with homicide felony murder; torture; assault with intent to murder and unlawful imprisonment. Amy Huschka, Indianapolis Star, "2 Michigan women wanted in connection with body found in burning car may be in Indianapolis," 27 Apr. 2018 The state has also publicized its opioid investigation, seeking information about whether pharmaceutical companies engaged in unlawful activity involving marketing, sales and distribution of opioids. Angela Hart, sacbee, "Are Exxon, Facebook in California's cross hairs? Top cop hints at investigations | The Sacramento Bee," 11 Apr. 2018 By Tuesday night, authorities had obtained a federal warrant for Conditt’s arrest, charging him with unlawful possession and transfer of a destructive device. Andrew Blankstein, NBC News, "Trail to Austin bombing suspect combined high-tech and old-fashioned techniques," 21 Mar. 2018 Victims must not have been engaging in unlawful activity at the time of the crime, and victims’ conduct must not have contributed to the situation that brought about their injuries. Ron Hurtibise, Sun-Sentinel.com, "Here's how Parkland victims can get what Pam Bondi promised to help with expenses," 16 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unlawful.' 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 unlawful

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for unlawful

Last Updated

7 May 2019

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Time Traveler for unlawful

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

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English Language Learners Definition of unlawful

formal : not allowed by the law


un·​law·​ful | \ ˌən-ˈlȯ-fəl How to pronounce unlawful (audio) \

Kids Definition of unlawful

: not lawful : illegal

Other Words from unlawful

unlawfully \ -​fə-​lē \ adverb



Legal Definition of unlawful

1 : not lawful : not authorized or justified by law
2 : acting contrary to or in defiance of the law an unlawful possessor

Other Words from unlawful

unlawfully adverb
unlawfulness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on unlawful

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with unlawful

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for unlawful

Spanish Central: Translation of unlawful

Nglish: Translation of unlawful for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of unlawful for Arabic Speakers

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