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

Essential Meaning of sanction

1 : an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc.
2 : official permission or approval The country acted without the sanction of the other nations. Their policy has/lacks legal sanction.

Full 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

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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 also be 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, especially an ecclesiastical decree. (The Latin sancire, meaning "to make holy," is an ancestor.) By the end of the 17th century, the meaning of the noun "sanction" had extended to 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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Attorney General Edwin Meese III agreed to the sanction, and other countries followed suit. Washington Post, 8 Oct. 2021 The judge is now allowing evidence from the internal investigation to be used at trial, as a sanction for Nemours’ fraud. Caroline Catherman,, 1 Oct. 2021 Cuomo’s outreach to the White House may have opened him up to sanction for violating state ethics rules and could be relevant in an ongoing impeachment inquiry by the New York State Assembly. Ronan Farrow, The New Yorker, 10 Aug. 2021 The commission decided on Burns’ sanction Aug. 19 and published it Friday. Dallas News, 17 Sep. 2021 The sanction comes just a month after the FRC said recent audits by the Big Four accounting firms in the U.K. failed to meet its expectations on quality. Kristin Broughton, WSJ, 25 Aug. 2021 Gantz made the comment during a presentation aimed at having the Council sanction Iran for a series of recent maritime attacks, including one last week on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people, according to the Jerusalem Post. Greg Norman, Fox News, 5 Aug. 2021 The sanction against Younge is notable because formal charges against judges in Pennsylvania, like most other states, are rarely filed. Erik Ortiz, NBC News, 31 July 2021 Russia was originally banned from competing in the Olympics, Paralympics and World Championship for four years until the CAS decreased the sanction to two years in 2020. Asha C. Gilbert, USA TODAY, 26 July 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb It has been long established that Congress itself can sanction contemptuous witnesses, by, for example, levying crippling fines. Norman Eisen And Hank Sparks, CNN, 7 Oct. 2021 Newsweek reported the fight was originally scheduled to be in California but was moved to Florida once California State Athletic Commission refused to sanction the fight. Angie Dimichele,, 8 Sep. 2021 Calling for reforms in government accountability, the El Monte City Council has launched an effort to create an ethics commission that would sanction city officials who violate rules on accepting expensive gifts and other conflicts of interest. Adam Elmahrek, Los Angeles Times, 2 Aug. 2021 These are laws that allow governments to sanction individual human-rights abusers — by denying them visas, for example, or freezing their assets. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 26 July 2021 In August, the Florida Board of Education voted to sanction the Alachua and Broward county public school districts for imposing mask mandates. NBC News, 10 Sep. 2021 But the Vatican and local church dithered for years on how to sanction him, ultimately deciding to remove him from Peru and isolate him from the community. Nicole Winfield, Anchorage Daily News, 1 June 2021 But the Vatican dithered for years on how to sanction him, ultimately deciding to remove him from Peru and isolate him from the community. Fox News, 8 Dec. 2020 Charging unvaccinated people more reopens the door for insurers to sanction other health behaviors and pre-existing conditions, undermining a bedrock ACA achievement. Natalie Shure, The New Republic, 16 Aug. 2021

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.

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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

18 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sanction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Oct. 2021.

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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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