[ bih-nahyn ]
/ bɪˈnaɪn /
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See synonyms for: benign / benignly on Thesaurus.com

Pathology. not malignant; self-limiting: a benign brain tumor.
having no harmful influence or effect: ecologically benign and sustainable building materials.
having a kindly disposition; gracious: a benign king.
showing or expressive of gentleness or kindness: a benign smile.
favorable; propitious: a series of benign omens and configurations in the heavens.
(of weather) pleasant or beneficial; salubrious; healthful.
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Origin of benign

First recorded in 1275–1325; Middle English benigne, from Anglo-French, Old French benigne (feminine), benin (masculine), from Latin benignus “kind, generous,” equivalent to beni-, combining form of bonus “good” (see bene-) + -gnus, derivative of the base of gignere “to beget” (see genitor, genus), hence, perhaps, “good by nature”; cf. malign


be·nign·ly, adverbsu·per·be·nign, adjectiveun·be·nign, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What’s the difference between benign and malignant?

In a medical context, the word benign is used to describe masses or tumors that are not cancerous—those that do not spread disease to other parts of the body. The word malignant is the opposite—it’s used to describe harmful masses or tumors that are cancerous and that grow and spread disease.

Both words are sometimes also used in general ways. Benign can mean kind, favorable, or gracious, while malignant can mean harmful or intended or intending to cause harm.

The best clue to help remember their meanings is the prefix mal-, which means “bad” and shows up in a lot of other negative words, such as malfunction, malpractice, malicious, and maleficent.

Here’s an example of benign and malignant used correctly in the same sentence.

Example: She was afraid the lump was a malignant tumor, but it turned out to be a benign cyst—totally harmless.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between benign and malignant.

Quiz yourself on benign vs. malignant!

Should benign or malignant be used in the following sentence?

I can assure you that my intentions are completely _____—I mean no harm.

How to use benign in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for benign

/ (bɪˈnaɪn) /

showing kindliness; genial
(of soil, climate, etc) mild; gentle
favourable; propitious
pathol (of a tumour, etc) not threatening to life or health; not malignant

Derived forms of benign

benignly, adverb

Word Origin for benign

C14: from Old French benigne, from Latin benignus, from bene well + gignere to produce
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

Scientific definitions for benign

[ bĭ-nīn ]

Not life-threatening or severe, and likely to respond to treatment, as a tumor that is not malignant. Compare malignant.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for benign

[ (bi-neyen) ]

A descriptive term for conditions that present no danger to life or well-being. Benign is the opposite of malignant.

notes for benign

The term benign is used when describing tumors or growths that do not threaten the health of an individual.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.