[ brahy-buh-ree ]
/ ˈbraɪ bə ri /
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Definition of bribery

noun, plural brib·er·ies.
the act or practice of giving or accepting a bribe: Bribery of a public official is a felony.


Click for a side-by-side comparison of meanings. Use the word comparison feature to learn the differences between similar and commonly confused words.


What Is The Difference Between "Bribery" vs. "Extortion"?

These are some of the oldest crimes we have in the history books, dating all the way back to English Common Law from the Middle Ages. But, even back then, there was a distinction between the two.

Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Origin of bribery

1350–1400; Middle English briberie theft <Middle French: begging. See bribe, -ery


bribery , extortion
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does bribery mean?

Bribery is the act of giving money (or something else of value) to someone to get them to do something you want them to do, especially something they’re not supposed to do.

In other words, bribery is the act of bribing someone—offering them a bribe.

In most cases, this refers to the often illegal act of offering money to people in official positions, like politicians, government officials, or sports referees, in order to get them to change an outcome to be more favorable to the person offering the bribe. For example, a businessperson might bribe a senator to vote a certain way, which is of course illegal.

Bribery can also refer to the practice of offering someone an incentive to do something, especially a child, as in I tried offering the kids TV time as a reward for cleaning up their room, but apparently bribery doesn’t work because they didn’t do it. 

Bribery can also refer to the exchange or acceptance of a bribe, but it most commonly refers to the act of offering it.

Example: The video clearly shows the lobbyist presenting the senator a briefcase full of money and asking for a favorable vote—it’s an open-and-shut case of bribery.

Where does bribery come from?

The first records of the word bribery come from the 1300s (though of course people have certainly been bribing each other for much longer than that). It comes from the Middle English briberie, which means “theft” and is derived from a Middle French word meaning “begging.” The word bribe comes from a Middle French word meaning “remnant of food given as alms.”

Bribery is often illegal. Bribing government officials is always illegal, and this is the kind of bribery you often hear about in the news, when such corruption has been uncovered. Bribery like this can result in prison time. But bribery frequently happens in much less official situations. The classic example is slipping the host at a restaurant some money to get a table without a reservation. While such cases of bribery aren’t illegal, they’re almost always unethical.

What’s the difference between bribery and extortion? Extortion is basically the act of requiring a bribe from someone, or forcing someone to provide money or favors in some other corrupt way.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to bribery?

What are some words that share a root or word element with bribery

What are some words that often get used in discussing bribery?

What are some words bribery may be commonly confused with?

How is bribery used in real life?

The word bribery is most often used in a legal context referring to corruption cases involving officials who have taken money in exchange for doing something they shouldn’t.



Try using bribery!

Is bribery used correctly in the following sentence?

Just because the bribe wasn’t money doesn’t mean this isn’t a case of bribery.

How to use bribery in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for bribery

/ (ˈbraɪbərɪ) /

noun plural -eries
the process of giving or taking bribes
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