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[peen-l] /ˈpin l/
of, relating to, or involving punishment, as for crimes or offenses.
prescribing punishment:
penal laws.
constituting punishment:
He survived the years of penal hardship.
used as a place of confinement and punishment:
a penal colony.
subject to or incurring punishment:
a penal offense.
payable or forfeitable as a penalty:
a penal sum.
Origin of penal
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English < Latin poenālis, equivalent to poen(a) penalty (< Greek poinḗ fine) + -ālis -al1
Related forms
[pi-nal-i-tee] /pɪˈnæl ɪ ti/ (Show IPA),
penally, adverb
nonpenal, adjective
unpenal, adjective
unpenally, adverb
Can be confused
penal, penile. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for penal
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Mr Haredale is a sufferer from the penal laws, and I can't expect his favour.'

    Barnaby Rudge Charles Dickens
  • Our whole conception of rights, and especially of penal law, should then change.

    The Sexual Question August Forel
  • At present, penal law is absolutely impotent in this matter.

    The Sexual Question August Forel
  • Are you conscious that you are rendering yourself liable to penal servitude?

    A Son of Hagar

    Sir Hall Caine
  • I told him the whole story, but all he said was, 'ten years' penal servitude.'

    Australia Revenged Boomerang
British Dictionary definitions for penal


of, relating to, constituting, or prescribing punishment
payable as a penalty: a penal sum
used or designated as a place of punishment: a penal institution
Derived Forms
penally, adverb
Word Origin
C15: from Late Latin poenālis concerning punishment, from poena penalty
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for penal

"pertaining to punishment," mid-15c., from Old French peinal (12c., Modern French pénal) and directly from Medieval Latin penalis, from Latin poenalis "pertaining to punishment," from poena "punishment," from Greek poine "blood-money, fine, penalty, punishment," from PIE *kwoina, from root *kwei- "to pay, atone, compensate" (cf. Greek time "price, worth, honor, esteem, respect," tinein "to pay a price, punish, take vengeance;" Sanskrit cinoti "observes, notes;" Avestan kaena "punishment, vengeance;" Old Church Slavonic cena "honor, price;" Lithuanian kaina "value, price").

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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