Definition of licence in English:


(US license)


  • 1A permit from an authority to own or use something, do a particular thing, or carry on a trade (especially in alcoholic drink)

    ‘a gun licence’
    as modifier ‘a television licence fee’
    • ‘In some cases, it says that such sites have been operating without a permit or licence for more than 20 years.’
    • ‘Phantom was a former pirate radio station, which had tried several times to get an official radio licence.’
    • ‘They have also indicated an intention to grant a form of license, which would permit only the acceptance of clay and topsoil at the landfill for the purpose of restoration and landscaping.’
    • ‘In the US it is mandatory for teenagers to receive formal training before they are given a driver's licence.’
    • ‘He had had no official schooling, no driver's licence, no electoral registration.’
    • ‘A pilot's license gives them permission to knock on the door.’
    • ‘Any change in the terms of this licence will require the permission of the Governors.’
    • ‘If you do not obtain this licence, any police officer or relevant council official can force you to move on and you may even find your way onto a blacklist.’
    • ‘I wanted to have that date on my licence, and the officials said no.’
    • ‘Anglers are reminded that this competition is open to everyone and no permit or license is required.’
    • ‘He expects to receive an official banking license soon.’
    • ‘The licence, officially known as an International Shipping Approval, carries the right of renewal for a further 12 months.’
    • ‘Virtually no account is taken of the often cruel results of losing one's licence - loss of job, and all that can follow from that.’
    • ‘North West Radio are expected to hold on to their licence when the new franchise winners are announced this evening.’
    • ‘The aviation authority said the company could fly charters, but that license expires in two months.’
    • ‘The licence grants permission to the licencee to make copies of the work.’
    • ‘All stockings must first be washed in an approved disinfectant and hung on boundary gateposts together with a copy of the official licence.’
    • ‘No tenancy or licence exists giving you permission to be there.’
    • ‘Apparently we needed to sign in front of an official so that our learner's license could be processed.’
    • ‘It is the official licence holder for the English, Scottish and German football associations and most of the Premiership and Nationwide League clubs.’
    permit, certificate, document, documentation, authorization, warrant, voucher, diploma, imprimatur
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1mass noun Formal or official permission to do something.
      ‘a subsidiary company manufactured cranes under licence from a Norwegian firm’
      • ‘The system is supplied by Lockheed Martin based in New York and has also been manufactured under licence by Mitsubishi in Japan.’
      • ‘The Museum has granted Art In Motion the official license to publish its ‘Rosenfeld Collection’’
      • ‘The method is not permitted in Australia, although permission under licence can be obtained by scientists in the UK.’
      • ‘The aircraft is being manufactured in Pakistan under license from Sweden, the paper said.’
      • ‘So far, two ice cream manufacturers have managed to snag the official license for low-carb super-premium ice cream products.’
      • ‘The Government said it would allow hunting to continue under licence but could not control its own party, the result being a ban of sorts.’
      • ‘Most will be manufactured under license from Russia.’
      • ‘A number of international goods are manufactured locally under license.’
      • ‘However, they cannot travel without strict permission and license from the King.’
      • ‘The automatic transmission, manufactured under licence from Renk of Ausburg in Germany, has five forward gears and one reverse gear.’
      • ‘She added that the franchise license from the Miss World Pageant was especially difficult to obtain.’
      • ‘They've been given tacit permission, if not license, to hurl themselves at them.’
      • ‘Several hundred were manufactured under licence in the USSR.’
      • ‘Teams are actually franchises that operate under licence from MLB.’
      • ‘They have given us license and permission to do it.’
      franchise, permission, consent, sanction, warrant, warranty, charter
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  • 2mass noun Freedom to behave as one wishes, especially in a way which results in excessive or unacceptable behaviour.

    ‘the government was criticized for giving the army too much licence’
    • ‘By avoiding the messiness of debate that a real democracy requires, we have given license to the excesses we now bemoan.’
    • ‘And a nation which is treated like children will behave childishly, in perpetual reaction against its lack of licence.’
    • ‘Rather than promoting self control and continent behaviour, we are encouraging unlimited licence.’
    • ‘Equally important, it protects freedom from itself, tempering excesses of individual license by postulating a higher moral code.’
    • ‘The unchecked power of corrupt rural officials has given them license to tax the peasants beyond endurable limits and to pack the public payroll with relatives and cronies.’
    • ‘I believe that the Government has taken excessive licence from the views of the select committee.’
    permission, authority, discretion, right, a free hand, leave, consent, authorization, sanction, approval, assent, entitlement, privilege, prerogative, blessing, exemption, mandate
    freedom, liberty, free rein, latitude, choice, option, independence, self-determination, scope, impunity, margin, leisure
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    1. 2.1 A writer's or artist's freedom to deviate from fact, or from conventions such as grammar, for effect.
      ‘artistic licence’
      • ‘And did you have to sort of take a bit of dramatic license with the facts?’
      • ‘It's basically a bit of licence, an artist's impression.’
      • ‘I guess Conrad's just practicing some artistic license.’
      • ‘Even if one forgives his poetic license with the facts, the book fails on the grounds that its arguments are incoherent.’
      • ‘Indeed, that was a wonderful exercise of licence, given the fact that the Act for hazardous substances came into force in July 2001.’
      • ‘The overall effect is what you're after, and artistic license forgives slight errors.’
      • ‘It also presents fantasy as fact, and for the unaware and the credulous, this is more than an exercise in poetic license; it is artistic and historical dishonesty.’
      • ‘Okay, so maybe the movie takes a little artistic license with the facts.’
      • ‘He was a playwright and memoirist who clearly believed in a writer's artistic license to embroider.’
      • ‘We have creative license as artists and we must defend this right.’
      • ‘Your artist friend also has taken more than slight artistic license.’
      • ‘Nevertheless, the apparent mixture of fact and fantasy in this part of the composition underlines the fact that he may sometimes have indulged in artistic licence.’
      • ‘Although there is some dramatic license, the writers and director have clearly done their research into the condition.’
      • ‘My feeling is that the writer has license to write his/her version of the truth, as it serves the work's intent, veracity, and aesthetic.’
      • ‘Besides, every cobweb in the room is not necessarily worth a five-paragraph description, even after you provide adequate flexibility towards artistic license.’
      • ‘It is trickery, it is debauchery, it is an attempt to make a box office killing in the name of an artist's licence of creativity.’
      • ‘Though their logos still appear on game boxes it is simply artistic license; as independent entitles they have ceased to exist.’
      • ‘I had to use other means to reach my end - invoking a writer's fictional licence in a few minor instances where I couldn't verify the facts - but reached it was.’
      • ‘Organizations hoping to discredit him claim he manipulates facts and stretches artistic license.’
      • ‘Although I rant, there's no doubt that creative contributions from the world's artists would be poorer in the absence of artistic license.’
      disregard for the facts, deviation from the truth, departure from the truth
      View synonyms
    2. 2.2 Licentiousness.
      • ‘Outside and opposed to normal social life, liminality is also given ritual expression in licence, disorder, and role reversal.’
      • ‘Torturing cats was common in several strands of European culture, as part of rituals of license and disorder.’
      • ‘Telescoping the text frantically, he omits most of the low-life scenes, which show how sexual licence slides into moral anarchy.’
      • ‘And the moral of the story is this: freedom without responsibility is not freedom, it's license.’
      • ‘I looked for things that debased freedom, promoted license, ridiculed responsibility, and denigrated man and God - but that was all of TV.’
      licentiousness, dissoluteness, dissipation, debauchery, immorality, impropriety, decadence, profligacy, immoderation, intemperateness, indulgence, self-indulgence, excess, excessiveness, lack of restraint, lack of control, irresponsibility, abandon, laxness, laxity, disorder, disorderliness, unruliness, lawlessness, anarchy
      View synonyms
    3. 2.3a licence to do something A reason or excuse to do something unacceptable.
      ‘police say that the lenient sentence is a licence to assault’
      • ‘I have been rather busy since my last posting: Tom came back from his stag weekend which sadly was less debauched than he had license to be involved in.’
      • ‘The licence to kill is permission, but his overwhelming charisma is the mandate.’
      • ‘The squirearchy does not have some exclusive licence to indulge in barbarism just because grandpa thought slaughter was a sport and the tenants know their place.’
      • ‘Giving them free license to print will result in their indiscriminate covering of the entire surface with gadget prints.’
      • ‘In particular, the province's vaguely defined outcomes-based curriculum can be seen by teachers as licence to teach whatever they wish.’


Note that in British English licence is the correct spelling for the noun, and is also an acceptable variant spelling of the verb. In US English both noun and verb are spelled license


  • licence to print money

    • A very lucrative commercial activity, regarded as requiring little effort.

      ‘people see music publishing as a licence to print money’
      • ‘Everyone and his dog now knows that commercial radio is a licence to print money, and they all want quick bucks.’
      • ‘Being a sexy girl in a soap is a license to print money.’
      • ‘When exploited properly it's a license to print money, capable of earning its purchase price within a few years.’
      • ‘And that's kind of a license to print money - particularly if you're also trying to make your service the definitive place to buy the media products themselves…’
      • ‘For awhile, starting an Internet company and taking it public was a license to print money.’
      • ‘What it's meant is handing over to them a license to print money so that they are awash with profits at the same time as being morally bankrupt.’
      • ‘France and the UK are currently engaged in a tussle to see who controls such an agency which promises to become a license to print money for the eventual winner.’
      • ‘A private company, subsidised by the taxpayer, is given a license to print money at our expense.’
      • ‘A liquor license on Whyte Avenue is generally known to be a license to print money.’
      • ‘It used to be a license to print money but no more.’


Late Middle English: via Old French from Latin licentia ‘freedom, licentiousness’ (in medieval Latin ‘authority, permission’), from licere ‘be lawful or permitted’.