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’
    • ‘It is the official licence holder for the English, Scottish and German football associations and most of the Premiership and Nationwide League clubs.’
    • ‘He expects to receive an official banking license soon.’
    • ‘Apparently we needed to sign in front of an official so that our learner's license could be processed.’
    • ‘A pilot's license gives them permission to knock on the door.’
    • ‘Phantom was a former pirate radio station, which had tried several times to get an official radio licence.’
    • ‘I wanted to have that date on my licence, and the officials said no.’
    • ‘In some cases, it says that such sites have been operating without a permit or licence for more than 20 years.’
    • ‘In the US it is mandatory for teenagers to receive formal training before they are given a driver's licence.’
    • ‘North West Radio are expected to hold on to their licence when the new franchise winners are announced this evening.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The licence, officially known as an International Shipping Approval, carries the right of renewal for a further 12 months.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He had had no official schooling, no driver's licence, no electoral registration.’
    • ‘Anglers are reminded that this competition is open to everyone and no permit or license is required.’
    • ‘No tenancy or licence exists giving you permission to be there.’
    • ‘Any change in the terms of this licence will require the permission of the Governors.’
    • ‘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.’
    permit, certificate, document, documentation, authorization, warrant, voucher, diploma, imprimatur
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    1. 1.1mass noun Formal or official permission to do something.
      ‘a subsidiary company manufactured cranes under licence from a Norwegian firm’
      • ‘So far, two ice cream manufacturers have managed to snag the official license for low-carb super-premium ice cream products.’
      • ‘The system is supplied by Lockheed Martin based in New York and has also been manufactured under licence by Mitsubishi in Japan.’
      • ‘She added that the franchise license from the Miss World Pageant was especially difficult to obtain.’
      • ‘The automatic transmission, manufactured under licence from Renk of Ausburg in Germany, has five forward gears and one reverse gear.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The method is not permitted in Australia, although permission under licence can be obtained by scientists in the UK.’
      • ‘They have given us license and permission to do it.’
      • ‘A number of international goods are manufactured locally under license.’
      • ‘They've been given tacit permission, if not license, to hurl themselves at them.’
      • ‘Most will be manufactured under license from Russia.’
      • ‘Several hundred were manufactured under licence in the USSR.’
      • ‘The Museum has granted Art In Motion the official license to publish its ‘Rosenfeld Collection’’
      • ‘However, they cannot travel without strict permission and license from the King.’
      • ‘Teams are actually franchises that operate under licence from MLB.’
      • ‘The aircraft is being manufactured in Pakistan under license from Sweden, the paper said.’
      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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘By avoiding the messiness of debate that a real democracy requires, we have given license to the excesses we now bemoan.’
    • ‘Rather than promoting self control and continent behaviour, we are encouraging unlimited licence.’
    • ‘And a nation which is treated like children will behave childishly, in perpetual reaction against its lack of licence.’
    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’
      • ‘Besides, every cobweb in the room is not necessarily worth a five-paragraph description, even after you provide adequate flexibility towards artistic license.’
      • ‘It's basically a bit of licence, an artist's impression.’
      • ‘Though their logos still appear on game boxes it is simply artistic license; as independent entitles they have ceased to exist.’
      • ‘Okay, so maybe the movie takes a little artistic license with the facts.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Your artist friend also has taken more than slight artistic license.’
      • ‘He was a playwright and memoirist who clearly believed in a writer's artistic license to embroider.’
      • ‘And did you have to sort of take a bit of dramatic license with the facts?’
      • ‘Although I rant, there's no doubt that creative contributions from the world's artists would be poorer in the absence of artistic license.’
      • ‘Even if one forgives his poetic license with the facts, the book fails on the grounds that its arguments are incoherent.’
      • ‘We have creative license as artists and we must defend this right.’
      • ‘I guess Conrad's just practicing some artistic license.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Organizations hoping to discredit him claim he manipulates facts and stretches artistic license.’
      • ‘Although there is some dramatic license, the writers and director have clearly done their research into the condition.’
      • ‘Indeed, that was a wonderful exercise of licence, given the fact that the Act for hazardous substances came into force in July 2001.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The overall effect is what you're after, and artistic license forgives slight errors.’
      disregard for the facts, deviation from the truth, departure from the truth
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    2. 2.2 Licentiousness.
      • ‘Telescoping the text frantically, he omits most of the low-life scenes, which show how sexual licence slides into moral anarchy.’
      • ‘Outside and opposed to normal social life, liminality is also given ritual expression in licence, disorder, and role reversal.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Torturing cats was common in several strands of European culture, as part of rituals of license and disorder.’
      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’
      • ‘The licence to kill is permission, but his overwhelming charisma is the mandate.’
      • ‘In particular, the province's vaguely defined outcomes-based curriculum can be seen by teachers as licence to teach whatever they wish.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Giving them free license to print will result in their indiscriminate covering of the entire surface with gadget prints.’
      • ‘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.’


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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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…’
      • ‘When exploited properly it's a license to print money, capable of earning its purchase price within a few years.’
      • ‘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.’


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