Try Our Apps


Avoid these words. Seriously.


[pen-uh ns] /ˈpɛn əns/
a punishment undergone in token of penitence for sin.
a penitential discipline imposed by church authority.
a sacrament, as in the Roman Catholic Church, consisting in a confession of sin, made with sorrow and with the intention of amendment, followed by the forgiveness of the sin.
Origin of penance
1250-1300; Middle English penaunce < Anglo-French; Old French peneance < Latin paenitentia penitence
Related forms
penanceless, adjective
Can be confused
penance, pennants. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
Cite This Source
Examples from the Web for penance
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He forced himself to face them regularly as a penance and a corrective.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • I say because it is a part of my penance for the sin which I have sinned.

    Fair Margaret H. Rider Haggard
  • "No penance at all, I assure you," answered Peter with something like a smile.

    Fair Margaret H. Rider Haggard
  • Let not the penance for a rashness, to which fate urges me on, attach to my country, but to me.

    Leila, Complete Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • I suppose he's going to keep me waiting for days, as a penance.

  • In prayer and penance and fasting he would find help and consolation.

    The Christian Hall Caine
British Dictionary definitions for penance


voluntary self-punishment to atone for a sin, crime, etc
a feeling of regret for one's wrongdoings
  1. a punishment usually consisting of prayer, fasting, etc, undertaken voluntarily as an expression of penitence for sin
  2. a punishment of this kind imposed by church authority as a condition of absolution
(transitive) (of ecclesiastical authorities) to impose a penance upon (a sinner)
Word Origin
C13: via Old French from Latin paenitentia repentance; related to Latin 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
Cite This Source
Word Origin and History for penance

late 13c., "religious discipline or self-mortification as a token of repentance and as atonement for some sin," from Anglo-French penaunce, Old French peneance (12c.), from Latin pænitentia (see penitence). Transferred sense is recorded from c.1300.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source
penance in Culture

penance definition

Acts done to make up for sin. (See confession and indulgence.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Cite This Source

Word of the Day

Nearby words for penance

Word Value for penance

Scrabble Words With Friends