Definition of penalty in English:



  • 1A punishment imposed for breaking a law, rule, or contract.

    ‘the charge carries a maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment’
    • ‘They all deny espionage, a charge which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison or a hefty fine.’
    • ‘Failure to do so carries the maximum penalty of a £20,000 fine or six months jail.’
    • ‘The maximum penalty for breaking such an order is five years in prison.’
    • ‘Causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs carries maximum penalties of ten years in prison, an unlimited fine and a minimum two-year driving ban.’
    • ‘What would be the penalty for breaking this rule?’
    • ‘The bills also take the almost unprecedented step of imposing absolute liability in relation to offences carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.’
    • ‘But all 67 aboard have pleaded guilty to immigration and aviation violations carrying a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a fine.’
    • ‘Foxhunting carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.’
    • ‘It's a summary conviction that carries a maximum penalty of a $2,000 fine and six months in jail.’
    • ‘In Britain, counterfeiting and copyright theft carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and unlimited fines.’
    • ‘The violation carries a maximum penalty of death.’
    • ‘Even if he does, the maximum penalty for breaking the rules is a fine of $2,000 per violation.’
    • ‘Each count of manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 30 years.’
    • ‘Hoax calls can carry a maximum penalty of up to three months in prison.’
    • ‘Although the ID cards will not have to be carried by the holder, there are stiff penalties for people who break the rules.’
    • ‘Police will have powers to impose instant £80 penalties for breaking new laws restricting their use.’
    • ‘Riot is one of the most serious political offences in the criminal code, and carries a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment.’
    • ‘The interstate shipment of stolen goods offence carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.’
    • ‘The charges carry a maximum penalty of five life sentences.’
    • ‘Sampling would be conducted on prisoners who had been sentenced for an offence that carried a maximum penalty of more than 12 months.’
    punishment, sanction, punitive action, retribution, penance
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    1. 1.1 A disadvantage suffered as the result of an action or situation.
      ‘the cold never leaves my bones these days—one of the penalties of age’
      • ‘This is a situation where the penalty is most unfair.’
      • ‘Kimi's third place reflects his poor starting position resulting from a penalty he suffered following an engine change on Saturday.’
      • ‘But he admits they are now paying the penalty for running with a small squad.’
      • ‘But this is different because individuals will suffer a penalty in the meantime.’
      • ‘But even if you quit the deal in the last two years, you would suffer £4,500 in penalties on a £150,000 loan.’
      • ‘York continued to suffer a series of penalties, which is a seemingly weekly occurrence, suggesting that all the fault cannot be laid at the hands of a succession of misguided officials.’
      • ‘Zimbabwe could well do with a rare victory and are paying the penalty for arranging a tour at the height of their rainy season.’
      • ‘As a result of such biases, faculty members suffer career penalties for using policies designed to help them balance work and family commitments.’
      • ‘You have to give the requisite notice before making withdrawals or suffer interest penalties.’
      • ‘This new situation may counsel a penalty of even higher than five years for the most serious of the anthrax hoaxes.’
      • ‘If all the evidence is against him, he will suffer the harshest penalty.’
      • ‘Criminal's who commit the worst crimes are currently able to suffer death as the penalty.’
      • ‘Furthermore, if two people of the same sex (who are not related) are found to be naked together they may suffer the penalty of a hundred lashes.’
      • ‘At present, people who are proven to be proactively racist in an Australian workplace stand to lose their jobs or suffer significant financial penalties.’
      • ‘As a result, it now seems that she may suffer a penalty, since her insurance for the tour did not include cover for her being taken ill.’
      • ‘Therefore we will suffer the same penalties as non-members.’
      • ‘I also accept that there are very limited cases where a person who has a minor conviction might suffer a penalty out of all proportion to the early, minor offending.’
      • ‘They should be locked up like other law breakers and they should suffer a financial penalty.’
      • ‘This ultimately destroys the very reason for Jesus' redemptive work on the Cross - paying the penalty of death for our sin.’
      • ‘If a depositor misses just one payment they can suffer severe penalties especially in an environment where interest rates are falling.’
      disadvantage, difficulty, drawback, handicap, snag, downside, minus, detriment, unpleasant aspect
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  • 2(in sports and games) a handicap imposed on a player or team for infringement of rules.

    ‘she only incurred 6.40 penalties for time on cross-country’
    • ‘They are so bad their offense has 18 false-start penalties in six games.’
    • ‘The matter has been referred to the players to impose a penalty under their code of conduct.’
    • ‘Players are reminded that under the Rules of Golf, a player incurs the applicable penalty for any breach of the rules by his caddy.’
    • ‘Obviously, it's important for players to understand the penalty that is attached to the rule.’
    • ‘The team committed a whopping 58 penalties in four preseason games and failed to reduce the problems from week to week.’
    • ‘Each competitor tries to manoeuvre the other into making an error or violating the rules and incurring a penalty.’
    • ‘The officials, from the same habitus as the runners, control the sport and impose penalties when they detect infringements of the rules.’
    • ‘He said videos had helped him predict which way England players would steer their penalties but believes other factors also aided him.’
    • ‘He gets a penalty for delay of game, and he really is looking rattled right now.’
    • ‘We always practise penalties before a cup game.’
    • ‘Also, his pass-interference penalty late in the game was inexcusable.’
    • ‘Last season, there were an average of 3.02 holding penalties per game.’
    • ‘People talk about the penalty that settled the game.’
    • ‘He went on to claim 100 per cent accuracy for the second game running with two penalties and three conversions.’
    • ‘The sport's top official governing body said yesterday the decision to impose the penalties was taken ‘for the betterment of the players’.’
    • ‘An officiating website will be fully operational this year and will include an area containing penalties called in games.’
    • ‘The visitors hit the home side for six, with two of those strikes coming deep into injury time, including a penalty as the game entered its fifth minute of stoppage time.’
    • ‘In a seven-game series, that works out to be a difference of two penalties a game.’
    • ‘The teams exchanged penalties early in the game as both vied for supremacy.’
    • ‘Time outs are allowed, but any infringement incurs a five-point penalty.’
    1. 2.1 A kick or shot awarded to a team because of an infringement of the rules by an opponent.
      ‘a penalty corner’
      • ‘In the 75th minute England were awarded a penalty within easy kicking distance of the posts.’
      • ‘The referee awarded only a penalty for the foul play, and the full-back remained on the field.’
      • ‘The breakthrough finally came when Aberdeen kicked a penalty into the corner and drove over the line on the 60-minute mark.’
      • ‘He was convinced his opponent had taken a penalty shot.’
      • ‘After you score in hockey, you don't award the other team with a penalty shot.’
      • ‘The visitors were awarded a penalty, which they kicked into the corner.’
      • ‘Three of their tries came from line-outs following penalties kicked into the corner and two more following forward drives.’
      • ‘The visitors, on the other hand, took poor options in the first half, kicking for touch rather than posts when awarded penalties.’
      • ‘However, should the ball be hit intentionally over the back-line then a penalty corner is awarded against the defending side.’
      • ‘Almost immediately, he rifled a penalty corner shot straight into the net.’
      • ‘They mounted continuous pressure on the home line and were awarded several penalties which they declined to kick.’
      • ‘This had followed a surprising decision to kick a penalty into the corner instead of the goal, which with the help of hindsight may well have cost the home side the game.’
      • ‘His speed often leads to holding or false-start penalties from opponents.’
      • ‘John and his teammates were finally awarded a penalty after neither team had scored in the 20-minute competition.’
      • ‘A breach of the rule will result in the opponents being awarded a penalty corner.’
      • ‘It remains to be seen whether it will be enough to win what is certain to be a tight contest, so tight that it will probably be won by the team making best use of their penalty corner awards.’
      • ‘The team has struggled all season with punt return penalties, and the kick coverage unit has been shaky.’
      • ‘That allows the play to flow and continue with the attacking team given a true advantage - if there is no gain then the whistle blows and the free kick or penalty awarded.’
      • ‘The home side rounded off their scoring in the 62nd minute when they elected to kick a penalty into the corner.’
      • ‘Matching the number of penalties awarded was the frequency of kicks charged down by both sides.’
    2. 2.2Bridge Points won by the defenders when a declarer fails to make the contract.
      • ‘Playing is a commitment to win at least one trick, and there is a penalty for failing to do so.’
      • ‘Next, if declarer has taken fewer than 6 tricks he pays a penalty of 20 units to the pot.’
      • ‘If they win one trick each, or only one or zero tricks in total, both defenders pay the penalty.’
      • ‘After the Declarer has counted his books and subtracted his penalties, that number is compared with his bid.’
      • ‘The same penalty is payable by the declarer if the wrong number of cards were discarded.’


  • under (or on) penalty of

    • Under the threat of.

      ‘he ordered enterprises to fulfil contracts under penalty of strict fines’
      • ‘In the survey, college administrators were asked to state, under penalty of perjury, whether they enrolled high-school students in the classes legally.’
      • ‘What whistleblower would even dare contact a journalist if he or she knew that the journalist could be compelled under penalty of jail to reveal the whistleblower's name?’
      • ‘Women were not allowed to take part in the ancient Games, and married women were not even allowed as spectators, under penalty of death.’
      • ‘Married women weren't even allowed to watch under penalty of death.’
      • ‘Voter registrants have to check a box and sign a form under penalty of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen, of voting age, and not an ex-felon.’
      • ‘If you're outside of Britain, just be thankful that you're not forced under penalty of law to finance this deeply troubled organisation's efforts to dodge reality.’
      • ‘There wasn't a soul in the room who would have considered such a move under penalty of death.’
      • ‘It says, ‘I hereby declare under penalty of election falsification, that the statements above are true as I verily believe.’’
      • ‘You mean the ones declared illegal by the republic under penalty of long painful death?’
      • ‘Should employees then be required, under penalty of not getting any redundancy, to change from one culture of organisation to another, albeit on paper it is simply a name change?’


Early 16th century: probably via Anglo-Norman French, from medieval Latin poenalitas, based on poena ‘pain’.