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[peen-l] /ˈpin l/
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
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English < Latin poenālis, equivalent to poen(a) penalty (< Greek poinḗ fine) + -ālis -al1
Related forms
[pi-nal-i-tee] /pɪˈnæl ɪ ti/ (Show IPA),
penally, adverb
nonpenal, adjective
unpenal, adjective
unpenally, adverb
Can be confused
penal, penile. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for penal
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Port Arthur—one of the penal settlements on Tasman's Peninsula.

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

    Barnaby Rudge Charles Dickens
  • This nephew robbed him some time ago, and was sentenced to penal servitude.

    Dead Man's Love Tom Gallon
  • At present, penal law is absolutely impotent in this matter.

    The Sexual Question August Forel
  • It has been used as a penal settlement by England, but this is now abolished.

    Missing Friends Thorvald Weitemeyer
British Dictionary definitions for penal


of, relating to, constituting, or prescribing punishment
payable as a penalty: a penal sum
used or designated as a place of punishment: a penal institution
Derived Forms
penally, adverb
Word Origin
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
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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
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