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impeach

[ im-peech ]
/ ɪmˈpitʃ /
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verb (used with object)
to accuse (a public official) before an appropriate tribunal of misconduct in office.
Chiefly Law. to challenge the credibility of: to impeach a witness.
to bring an accusation against.
to call in question; cast an imputation upon: to impeach a person's motives.
to call to account.
noun
Obsolete. impeachment.
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Origin of impeach

1350–1400; Middle English empechen, enpeshen<Anglo-French empecher<Late Latin impedicāre to fetter, trap, equivalent to Latin im-im-1 + pedic(a) a fetter (derivative of pēsfoot) + -ā- thematic vowel + -re infinitive suffix

OTHER WORDS FROM impeach

im·peach·er, nounun·im·peached, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does impeach mean?

Impeach means to formally accuse a public official of misconduct committed while in office.

The act or process of impeaching or the state of being impeached is called impeachment. An offense that is cause for someone to be impeached can be called an impeachable offense.

In the U.S., the word impeach is closely associated with the act of officially bringing charges of misconduct against a sitting president (though other federal officials can be impeached).

Impeaching an official is not the same as convicting them or removing them from office—to impeach is simply to formally present charges against them.

Under U.S. law (specifically Article I of the Constitution), the House of Representatives has the power to formally accuse federal officials of misconduct by impeaching them. According to the Constitution, an official can be impeached if they are alleged to have committed treason, bribery, or “other high crimes and misdemeanors” (this vague term covers a number of offenses but is the subject of debate).

If the House votes to impeach, the Senate then conducts an impeachment trial. In order for the person to be found guilty, two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of conviction. If found guilty, the official is removed from office (and may be forbidden from holding political office again, depending on the ruling of the Senate).

In a more general legal context, to impeach a witness is to question their credibility.

The word impeach can also be used in a more general way meaning to call into question, as in How can you impeach my motives if you don’t know me? It can also mean to challenge or call to account, as in We must impeach such behavior, not condone it. 

Example: Representatives have said they will impeach the president if he refuses to resign.

Where does impeach come from?

The first records of the word impeach come from the 1300s. It comes from the Middle English empechen or enpeshen, from the Late Latin verb impedicāre, meaning “to trap” or “to entangle.” The Latin term pedic(a) at the root of the word means “a fetter” (a shackle for the foot) and comes from the Latin pēs, which means “foot” and is the root of many foot-related words, such as pedicure and pedestrian.

In U.S. history, impeachment is relatively rare, with only a handful of officials ever having been impeached, including just three presidents.

  • President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for violating an act that set rules for appointing or firing federal officials. Johnson was just a single vote short of being found guilty.
  • President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1999 on charges that he committed perjury when testifying to a federal grand jury. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.
  • President Donald J. Trump was impeached in 2020 on charges involving corruption and abuse of power after he allegedly attempted to influence the president of Ukraine to perform political favors by withholding military aid that had been approved by Congress. Trump was acquitted by the Senate.
  • Trump was impeached a second time in 2021. The article of impeachment introduced by the House of Representatives accused the president of inciting insurrection by encouraging his supporters to storm the Capitol building, where Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump was defeated by Joseph Biden. Trump is the only president to face impeachment twice.

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What are some other forms related to impeach?

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

How is impeach used in real life?

In the U.S., the word impeach is closely associated with its use in the context of government and politics, especially in cases involving the president. When used generally, impeach is fairly formal.

 

Try using impeach!

True or False?

When a government official is impeached, it always means they are guilty of a crime and will be removed from office.

How to use impeach in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for impeach

impeach
/ (ɪmˈpiːtʃ) /

verb (tr)
criminal law to bring a charge or accusation against
British criminal law to accuse of a crime, esp of treason or some other offence against the state
mainly US to charge (a public official) with an offence committed in office
to challenge or question (a person's honesty, integrity, etc)

Derived forms of impeach

impeacher, noun

Word Origin for impeach

C14: from Old French empeechier, from Late Latin impedicāre to entangle, catch, from Latin im- (in) + pedica a fetter, from pēs foot
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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