Anything described as penal has something to do with legal punishment. Prisons are one important part of a country's penal system.

Whenever you see the adjective penal, you'll know it has to do with court-ordered punishment. A government's penal code, for example, is a list of crimes and the punishments imposed for each of them. You might notice how similar penal is to the word penalty — in fact, they both stem from the same Latin word, poena, and the Greek root poine, both of which mean "punishment."

Definitions of penal

adj of or relating to punishment

penal reform”
penal code”

adj subject to punishment by law

“a penal offense”
prohibited by law or by official or accepted rules

adj serving as or designed to impose punishment

penal servitude”
punitive, punitory
inflicting punishment

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.