Definition of penance in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈpɛnəns/


[mass noun]
1Punishment inflicted on oneself as an outward expression of repentance for wrongdoing: he had done public penance for those hasty words
More example sentences
  • Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.
  • In the bitter cold of winter, the yogi undertook various penances which, it was said, gave him great powers.
  • Speaking of which, will the guidelines for penances have to be re-written?
atonement, expiation, self-punishment, self-mortification, self-abasement, reparation, amends, penalty, punishment
atone, make amends/reparation/recompense/restitution, make up, redeem oneself, pay the penalty, pay, recompense, pay the price, expiate, redress, compensate
2A sacrament in which a member of the Church confesses sins to a priest and is given absolution. In the Roman Catholic Church often called sacrament of reconciliation.
Example sentences
  • The penitent then leaves the confessional and goes and prays his penance in the church.
  • In the fragile and apocalyptic early church, penance was conceived as a public reconciliation, necessary to the very existence of the congregation.
  • This ritual of confession, absolution and penance inadvertently hides as much as it discloses.
2.1A religious observance or other duty required of a person by a priest as part of this sacrament to indicate repentance.
Example sentences
  • They extended to religious observance and penance, or expiation, though in the later period there is a tendency to concentrate on what looks more today, in the west, like law.
  • I'm doing my duty and my penance now, but I'll always be a woman who loves a good show.
  • On the minus side, being presented with such an array of dishes almost always results in the type of culinary blow-out which requires hours of penance in the gym afterwards.


[with object] archaic
Impose a penance on: the Bishop penanced him severely for his conduct
More example sentences
  • For instance, if in an emotional dream you injured someone intentionally, you could perform a simple penance the next day to atone, such as fasting one meal.
  • They confess sins, do penance and engage in bhakti and karma yoga to raise consciousness.


Middle English: from Old French, from Latin paenitentia 'repentance', from the verb paenitere 'be sorry'.

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