[ man-slaw-ter ]
/ ˈmænˌslɔ tər /
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Law. the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought.
the killing of a human being by another; homicide.
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Origin of manslaughter

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English; see origin at man, slaughter


homicide, manslaughter , murder
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


Whats the difference between manslaughter and murder?

Manslaughter is the legal term for the act of killing someone without intending to, often in an accidental way. Murder is the legal term for the intentional killing of someone or the killing of someone as the result of a complete disregard for their life.

There are many specific conditions and interpretations surrounding what constitutes murder and manslaughter, and laws vary by location. The word murder is also commonly used in more general ways. In legal contexts, though, it’s typically used in a way that implies that the killing was intentional or the result of a complete disregard for the victim’s life, and this is the crucial difference between the words.

In the U.S., manslaughter can be classified as voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter often involves a person who kills someone through voluntary actions but without intending to harm them. For example, this could apply to a person who unintentionally kills someone during a fight after having been provoked to fight (especially when their actions are considered to go beyond those deemed appropriate for self-defense). Acts labeled as involuntary manslaughter are often reckless but accidental. For example, the term may be applied to a case in which a driver kills someone as a result of their reckless driving (this is sometimes specifically called vehicular manslaughter).

On the other hand, a person who intentionally runs someone over with their car would likely be charged with murder (unless it involved self-defense). Many jurisdictions classify murders with different degrees. For example, if a person intentionally runs someone over with their car after having planned to do it (that is, after having premeditated it), the act would be called first-degree murder. However, if the killing was intentional but not premeditated, it would be called second-degree murder. Of course, the official charge is typically based on what can be proven during a trial.

Here’s an example of manslaughter and murder used correctly in the same sentence.

Example: The accused was originally charged with manslaughter because it appeared to be a reckless driving accident, but the charge was changed to first-degree murder when the police discovered journals in which the driver had written plans to kill the victim and make it look like an accident.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between manslaughter and murder.

Quiz yourself on manslaughter vs. murder!

Should manslaughter or murder be used in the following sentence?

There is clear evidence that the defendant intended to kill the victim, and therefore the charge must be _____.

How to use manslaughter in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for manslaughter

/ (ˈmænˌslɔːtə) /

law the unlawful killing of one human being by another without malice aforethoughtCompare murder See also homicide, malice aforethought
(loosely) the killing of a human being
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

Cultural definitions for manslaughter

[ (man-slaw-tuhr) ]

The unlawful killing of a person, without malice or premeditation. Involuntary manslaughter is accidental, such as running into someone with a car. Voluntary manslaughter is committed in the “heat of passion,” as in a spontaneous fight in which one person is killed by a strong blow. Manslaughter is usually considered less serious than murder. Both murder and manslaughter are types of homicide.

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.