of, relating to, or involving punishment, as for crimes or offenses.
prescribing punishment: penal laws.
constituting punishment: He survived the years of penal hardship.
used as a place of confinement and punishment: a penal colony.
subject to or incurring punishment: a penal offense.
payable or forfeitable as a penalty: a penal sum.

Origin of penal

1400–50; late Middle English < Latin poenālis, equivalent to poen(a) penalty (< Greek poinḗ fine) + -ālis -al1
Related formspe·nal·i·ty [pi-nal-i-tee] /pɪˈnæl ɪ ti/, nounpe·nal·ly, adverbnon·pe·nal, adjectiveun·pe·nal, adjectiveun·pe·nal·ly, adverb
Can be confusedpenal penological punitivepenal penile Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for penal

Contemporary Examples of penal

Historical Examples of penal

  • Mr Haredale is a sufferer from the penal laws, and I can't expect his favour.'

    Barnaby Rudge

    Charles Dickens

  • Our whole conception of rights, and especially of penal law, should then change.

  • At present, penal law is absolutely impotent in this matter.

  • Are you conscious that you are rendering yourself liable to penal servitude?

    A Son of Hagar

    Sir Hall Caine

  • I told him the whole story, but all he said was, 'ten years' penal servitude.'

British Dictionary definitions for penal



of, relating to, constituting, or prescribing punishment
payable as a penaltya penal sum
used or designated as a place of punishmenta penal institution
Derived Formspenally, adverb

Word Origin for penal

C15: from Late Latin poenālis concerning punishment, from 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

Word Origin and History for penal

"pertaining to punishment," mid-15c., from Old French peinal (12c., Modern French pénal) and directly from Medieval Latin penalis, from Latin poenalis "pertaining to punishment," from poena "punishment," from Greek poine "blood-money, fine, penalty, punishment," from PIE *kwoina, from root *kwei- "to pay, atone, compensate" (cf. Greek time "price, worth, honor, esteem, respect," tinein "to pay a price, punish, take vengeance;" Sanskrit cinoti "observes, notes;" Avestan kaena "punishment, vengeance;" Old Church Slavonic cena "honor, price;" Lithuanian kaina "value, price").

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper