ve·​nal ˈvē-nᵊl How to pronounce venal (audio)
: capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration : purchasable
especially : open to corrupt influence and especially bribery : mercenary
a venal legislator
: originating in, characterized by, or associated with corrupt bribery
a venal arrangement with the police
venality noun
venally adverb

Did you know?

If you are given the choice between acts that are venal and those that are venial, go for the venial. Although the two words look and sound alike, they have very different meanings and histories. Venal demonstrates the adage that anything can be had if the price is high enough and the morals are low enough. That word originated with the Latin venum, which simply referred to something that was sold or for sale. Some of those transactions must have been rather shady because by the mid-1600s, venal had gained the sense of corruption it carries today. Venial sins, on the other hand, are pardonable, the kind that show that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. That forgiving term descends from venia, Latin for "favor," "indulgence," or "pardon."

Examples of venal in a Sentence

that judge is known for being venal and easily bought
Recent Examples on the Web Many simply believed that this venal side to their politics could be controlled and suppressed in the service of other political priorities. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 26 Oct. 2023 And who are/is the mysterious (but obviously venal) Adams Creek Associates? Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times, 13 Oct. 2023 Unfortunately, compromise long ago became a dirty word on the right—a sign of personal weakness, if not venal corruption. Robert Schlesinger, The New Republic, 28 Sep. 2023 As such, the chess games that Purna, the representative of the venal old guard, plays with Rakib, standing in for the new generation, are an imperfect metaphor, considering the desperately unfair terms of engagement that Indonesia’s youth have inherited. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 29 Sep. 2022 This subgenre suggests that the city is a stand-in for America’s worst tendencies — environmental depredation, materialism, the worship of celebrity, venal capitalism. Ismail Muhammad, New York Times, 12 Sep. 2023 The debauched and venal Fyodor Karamazov has three sons, the soulful sensualist Dmitry, the intellectual atheist Ivan, and the gentle, spiritual Alyosha. Michael Dirda, Washington Post, 24 Aug. 2023 In every instance, Trump insists on bending the rules—often for venal and stupid reasons; occasionally for ones that legitimately threaten the basic foundation of the country. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 15 Aug. 2023 For over two months, Mr. Netanyahu’s representatives have been engaged in private negotiations with the opposition about a potential compromise, mediated by President Isaac Herzog — buying both sides time and cooling what had been an increasingly venal public discourse. Patrick Kingsley, New York Times, 14 June 2023 See More

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

Word History


borrowed from Latin vēnālis "that may be bought, for sale," from *vēnus "sale" (attested only in accusative vēnum and dative vēnō, vēnuī; akin to Greek ônos "price," Sanskrit vasna- "price, value") + -ālis -al entry 1

First Known Use

1652, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of venal was in 1652


Dictionary Entries Near venal

Cite this Entry

“Venal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


ve·​nal ˈvēn-ᵊl How to pronounce venal (audio)
: willing to take bribes
venal officials
: influenced by bribery : corrupt
venal conduct
venality noun
venally adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on venal

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