Definition of penny in English:



  • 1A British bronze coin and monetary unit equal to one hundredth of a pound.

    ‘calls are charged at fifty pence a minute’
    as modifier ‘a fifty-pence piece’
    • ‘Suddenly, asking fifty pence for a cassette seems an act somewhere well to the left of folly.’
    • ‘Hospital patients are being charged four pence a minute for internet connection time.’
    • ‘Stamps on sale ranged in price from a few pennies to many hundreds of pounds each.’
    • ‘Couldn't they have just asked for the fifty pence (or whatever the price of the croutons was).’
    • ‘It is difficult to estimate the costs of printed portraits, but popular ballads sold for between a half penny and a penny between 1520-1640.’
    • ‘Or to be precise, one thousand, nine hundred and seventy-nine pounds, twenty-four pence.’
    • ‘Soon he is sneaking off to dance practice, pretending that his fifty pence are still going for boxing.’
    • ‘With slaughter fees of eight or nine pounds each, the buyers maintained that they could find around fifty pence in profit on each animal.’
    • ‘Fifty pence goes in the slot, nasty plastic opera goggles come out.’
    • ‘He gave me a miserable little cornet and charged me the full fifty pence.’
    • ‘Within two years of such a vote, pounds and pence could be going the same way as guilders and pfennigs.’
    • ‘She pressed a fifty pence piece into my hand and told me to go to the jukebox and put on song number 10 from cd number 3.’
    • ‘Even more shocking than their aggrandizement of linguistic power is their evident ignorance of how English, the language of pounds and pennies, dollars and cents, works.’
    • ‘They also included a selection of threepenny bits, a 1916 halfpenny and a penny piece from 1921.’
    • ‘Find a meal more nutritious than steamed broccoli and rice, but without going over my fifty pence dinner budget.’
    • ‘He held out his hand and showed me a fifty pence and ten pence coin and said ‘All I want is a cup of tea.’’
    • ‘Thus, in the other envelope today, was a cheque for fifty pounds and forty one pence.’
    • ‘The total sum due was one hundred and four pounds and eight pence.’
    • ‘He had pencilled a price of four pounds and fifty pence onto the first page.’
    • ‘Fifty pence from each bottle bought will go to the trust's ancient tree hunt, a project to save rare, ancient trees in the UK.’
    1. 1.1 A former British coin and monetary unit equal to one twelfth of a shilling and 240th of a pound.
      • ‘The wickedly funny show is set in the days of pounds, shillings and pence, tin baths and condensed-milk butties.’
      • ‘Prior to decimalization, the pound was divided into twenty shillings, each shilling into twelve pennies and each penny into four farthings.’
      • ‘Buy a little book ruled for the purpose for pounds, shillings and pence and keep an account of cash received and expended.’
      • ‘He continued writing something in a ledger, balancing columns of pounds, shillings and pence.’
      • ‘It will be little different from when we scrapped pounds, shillings and pence and switched to the decimal system.’
      • ‘Payment was made in cash of the pounds, shillings and pence variety and the ‘luck penny’ handed over.’
      • ‘I'll take anything, even old pennies from the pound shilling and pence era.’
      • ‘There were twenty shillings in a pound and twelve pence in a shilling.’
      • ‘The teenager quickly added up the long columns of pounds, shillings and pence, scoring top marks.’
      • ‘Before 1971 there were 240 pennies in a pound, 12 pennies in a shilling, and maths lessons were a lot more difficult.’
    2. 1.2North American informal A one-cent coin.
      • ‘The getter collects all the materials needed for the activity, which include shaving cream, 2 paper towels, and a penny.’
      • ‘By now, every person who had been watching was at once confident that there were no coins left and curious as to why someone would bother to carry around exactly four hundred fifty pennies.’
      • ‘Staring down into it you could see the shiny bronze pennies and silver dimes lying at the bottom.’
      • ‘‘A hundred pennies make a dollar,’ my father would say, encouraging me to surrender the coin in my hand to a narrow slot in the head of a porcelain pig.’
      • ‘To make things easier, the penny will also go up in value one cent each year until it is worth five cents.’
      • ‘You wouldn't be able to tell whether a web page costs a penny or a hundred dollars to visit.’
    3. 1.3 (in biblical use) a denarius.
      • ‘Let the widow give her penny and the laborer his wage.’
      • ‘He will preach and say, you might be a rich man and you are without avarice, or you might be a poor person with only a penny in your pocket and you might be avaricious because you desire to be wealthy.’
      • ‘There is the man who yearned for eternal life but was terribly attached to his own possessions, and the poor widow who put her last penny in the treasury.’
      • ‘I'd rather die without a penny in my pocket than be anything less than what I am as a Jew and as a human being.’
      • ‘Instead of throwing the penny in the miser's face, as others had done, Rabbi Schneur Zalman thanked the man politely and turned to leave.’
  • 2a pennyA small sum of money.

    ‘any chance to save a few pennies is welcome’
    • ‘Add up all those measly little pennies and the total cost for one slice of pizza comes to 78 cents.’
    • ‘It costs pennies, and its side effect is an upset stomach.’
    • ‘It costs pennies to use CD-Rs as a storage medium but I'm worried about them because I've see students cut bad copies every week.’
    • ‘Save up your pennies before you go to save wasting lots of money you haven't got.’
    • ‘My first effort was in 1934 when I went round all the villages collecting pennies for the people who needed the money.’
    • ‘It would cost just a few pennies to infuse a mix of spices into a vat of wine, so it's time someone gave us a mulled wine fit to drink.’
    • ‘Each day tens of thousands of parents around the world watch helplessly as their children die from illnesses that can be easily treated with medications that cost only pennies, but which are out of reach to the impoverished.’
    • ‘It hardly mattered that some of her cosmetics cost but pennies to make; it was the promise of glamour that put them across.’
    • ‘China alone has 8,000 toy makers competing fiercely for contracts by shaving pennies off production costs.’
    • ‘There is high end and low end and many designers sell clothing articles for very high prices that cost pennies to manufacture!’
    • ‘I tell them how the butcher's van would stop outside my parents' house selling lovely fresh meat and how we could make money by collecting empty pop bottles and exchanging them for pennies at the village shop.’
    • ‘Counting my pennies, I realised I had just enough money left for my favourite crepe and a cocktail.’
    • ‘They make their money not so much from gas, which yields pennies of profit, but from all the stuff in the store.’
    • ‘It now costs only pennies to produce a paperback, and books themselves can often be bought for less than the price of a cinema ticket.’
    • ‘Last time I checked, most glass lenses cost more than pennies.’
    • ‘So one of my biggest pet peeves is people who waste lab supply money on things you can make yourself for pennies and only a little bit of work.’
    • ‘And before that I always saved up my pennies in a money box for rainy days.’
    • ‘A penny here and a penny there added up to some very real money last year at 30 Seattle-area schools.’
    • ‘So I'll be rolling up my pennies - and trust me, there are a lot of pennies to be rolled - and sending the money off to Rachel to support her wonderful project.’
    • ‘Not only are they given away for free at some clinics, but a subscription for the pill at a chemist costs only pennies.’
    1. 2.1a pennywith negative Used for emphasis to denote no money at all.
      ‘we didn't get paid a penny’
      • ‘Nevertheless, there is a way we can reduce tuition fees by at least $2,000 a year and not cost the government a penny.’
      • ‘Actually, there is a lot, and it won't cost you a penny.’
      • ‘The Channel Tunnel was built without a penny of taxpayers money.’
      • ‘Let private enterprise provide whatever private facilities the market demands but let not a penny of public money go into them.’
      • ‘As recently as three weeks ago he had not paid back a penny of the money he owes the House of Commons Fees Office (ie the taxpayer), despite his claims last year that he had done so.’
      • ‘We are not prepared to give that man a penny of our money.’
      • ‘You get to give a gift and it doesn't cost you a penny.’
      • ‘Not a penny of the extra money will go to tackling low pay.’
      • ‘I want to put on the record that I haven't had a penny of public money.’
      • ‘I said it wouldn't require a penny of government money.’
      • ‘Not a penny of Government money has gone to the growth in Internet usage in the private sector.’
      • ‘Dozens of White House staffers are enjoying trips, some to luxurious destinations, without it costing them a penny.’
      • ‘I think this is another attempt by the government and their friends who are contractors to milk the Jamaican worker out of every last penny of their hard-earned money.’
      • ‘There were claims in parliament that she wasn't worth a penny of the money the civil list paid her.’
      • ‘This is also achieved without receiving a penny in taxpayers' money.’
      • ‘These groups do not use a penny of government money when they counsel women for whom birth control has failed that abortion is an option.’
      • ‘His wife, on the other hand, has not received a penny of this money, theoretically owing to her since the date of separation.’
      • ‘Although motorists have been exasperated by delays caused by the repairs, the work hasn't cost taxpayers a penny.’
      • ‘The fire service has not received a penny of that money.’
      • ‘Donation cards are an easy way to direct money to your favourite cause without costing you a penny.’


On the different uses of the plural forms pence and pennies, see pence


  • a bad penny always turns up

    • proverb Someone or something unwelcome will always reappear or return.

      ‘‘She's always turning up.’ Like a bad penny, Clare thought viciously’
      • ‘Of course, it has been said that a bad penny always turns up again.’
      • ‘Now, now, a bad penny always turns up somewhere.’
      • ‘"A bad penny always turns up," said my grandmother the day I was born.’
  • be two (or ten) a penny

    • Be plentiful and consequently of little value.

      ‘princes used to be two a penny in Hungary’
      • ‘Novelty bands are ten a penny, as even the most cursory glance at the charts on either side of the Atlantic will show you.’
      • ‘In capitalism's 700-year history, financial scandals are two a penny.’
      • ‘His superiors, knowing that boys his age were two a penny, did not even bother to follow him.’
      • ‘If anything, I'm surprised at how much action they do show, but I guess that's because all these swinging shots are ten a penny now, and I have a feeling there's more good stuff in store.’
      • ‘In Europe, cable-cars are almost two a penny, but they are extremely rare in the USA.’
      • ‘Ghosts, goblins, fairies, sprites seem to be two a penny in Skye.’
      • ‘Museums of modern art are two a penny in contemporary-art land.’
      • ‘Because by the time I go on a honeymoon, space flights will be ten a penny.’
      • ‘Albums of old classics by rising young singing stars are ten a penny - but this one is worth opening your purse for.’
      • ‘Opinions are ten a penny, everybody has their favourite reasons which are far short of the truth.’
      numerous, abundant, thick on the ground, profuse, plentiful, prolific, copious, legion, innumerable, countless, infinite, numberless
      View synonyms
  • count (or watch) the (or one's) pennies

    • Be careful about how much one spends.

      ‘George and Betty have had to watch the pennies since he took early retirement’
      ‘retirees need to pinch pennies’
      • ‘He'll be off earning vast piles of undeserved cash on the lecture circuit and drawing his bloated pension any day now and we'll be left sweeping up and counting the pennies.’
      • ‘After counting the pennies, can you afford to have children?’
      • ‘That is because people are watching the pennies and have either found a cheaper product, or decided that they simply cannot afford to take it.’
      • ‘They favor incremental improvements over time and watch the pennies.’
      • ‘If you're counting your pennies, a great date doesn't have to break the bank.’
      • ‘If they're to manage their finances properly while they're at university, they will need to know how to count the pennies.’
      • ‘They watch the pennies as you and I would our own money.’
      • ‘As my grandmother says, the rich stay that way by watching the pennies.’
      • ‘So what was it like to finally be able to stop counting the pennies?’
      • ‘If you can get some one else to drive, this is a course worth playing, especially if you are watching the pennies.’
      save, save money, cut expenditure, cut costs
      View synonyms
  • every penny

    • All of the available money.

      ‘she has spent every penny on the dinner’
      • ‘They work hard, and deserve every penny they earn.’
      • ‘When I was 17 I had over $50,000 in the bank, and I had earned every penny.’
      • ‘Those fearing for their health and life will spend every penny on a chimera of help.’
      • ‘At this moment in time we are striving to save every penny we can to buy our first house.’
      • ‘Finding ways to wring every penny out of real estate expenses can become such an overriding priority that cost cutting becomes an end in itself.’
      • ‘Every penny raised through our joint appeal will be spent improving the services provided to Scottish carers.’
      • ‘"We want to make sure that we get every penny that we're entitled to," he said.’
      • ‘The magic of Harry Potter is an addictive and intoxicating experience, and worth every penny of the not insignificant cost.’
      • ‘Tax cuts for the bottom half of the working population—in particular those low income households who are now spending every penny they earn—are far more likely to help the high street.’
      • ‘A lot of us are looking to squeeze every penny we can get, so there are some really good bargains out there.’
  • in for a penny, in for a pound

    • Used to express someone's intention to see an undertaking through, however much time, effort, or money this entails.

      ‘oh hell, I thought, in for a penny, in for a pound, and scrubbed the place from top to bottom’
      • ‘Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound: I could go from Detroit to San Jose to Chicago.’
      • ‘I figured that in for a penny, in for a pound that I could get the book to more people if I went public with it and there is a risk.’
      • ‘Still, in for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.’
      • ‘But, in for a penny, in for a pound, appears to be the thinking in Rome these days.’
      • ‘Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound - might as well violate the First Amendment, too, whenever we think it will help things.’
  • look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves

    • proverb If you concentrate on saving small amounts of money, you'll soon amass a large amount.

      • ‘My old mum used to say to us urchins, ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.'’
      • ‘The advice to look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves has obviously been taken to heart.’
      • ‘My mum always used to say: "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves."’
      • ‘One day in school he quoted a proverb that his mother had repeated often: "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.’
  • pennies from heaven

    • Unexpected benefits, especially financial ones.

      ‘compared with the cost of buying the database outright, paying as you go may seem like pennies from heaven’
      • ‘That is to say, he certainly wasn't praying for more pennies from heaven.’
      • ‘These alternate sources of funding can provide crucial cash as long as entrepreneurs know the true costs of accepting what seem to be pennies from heaven.’
      • ‘Namely, pennies from heaven aren't exactly showering down on Latin American apparel producers in need of financing.’
      • ‘The service costs about 15 cents for each message - a new twist to the concept of pennies from heaven.’
      • ‘This album should probably be considered pennies from heaven.’
      windfall, godsend
      View synonyms
  • the penny dropped

    • informal Used to indicate that someone has finally realized something.

      ‘I was about to ask Jack who it was, when the penny suddenly dropped’
      • ‘Finally the penny dropped - the thought of being embarrassed in front of the elite coaches and players of English rugby frightened me to death.’
      • ‘Then the penny dropped and the fun began as we tried to translate all the weird, wonderful phonetic spellings of the dishes on offer.’
      • ‘It was about that time that I noticed the stubble on her co-worker's chin, and again the penny dropped.’
      • ‘Suddenly the penny dropped when some of the more familiar names were just a bit too familiar.’
      • ‘Shortly after my son was born, the penny dropped that in all probability, one day I would be some girl's mother-in-law.’
      • ‘At some time over the past few weeks, the penny dropped.’
      • ‘Hasn't the penny dropped yet for these clever customers?’
      • ‘I was treated for depression for two years before the penny dropped.’
      • ‘Frequently we would find ourselves in situations where we were being delayed for hours on end, until the penny dropped and it finally became clear that the only way to move on was by crossing palms with silver.’
      • ‘Then when I called her up the penny dropped that this was the Kathy I had known at school.’
  • a penny for your thoughts

    • Used to ask someone what they are thinking about.

      • ‘It's in this book that we find the earliest known citation of the line, "A penny for your thoughts."’
      • ‘I haven't heard anyone say that for years - a penny for your thoughts.’
      • ‘Next time someone offers you a penny for your thoughts… sell!’
      • ‘When did the phrase "a penny for your thoughts" originate?’
      • ‘So, a penny for your thoughts here: what criteria, if any, should be applied in selecting names?’


Old English penig, penning of Germanic origin; related to Dutch penning, German Pfennig, perhaps also to pawn and (with reference to shape) pan.