Definition of penny in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈpɛni/

noun (plural for separate coins pennies, for a sum of money pence /pɛns/)

1 (abbreviation p) A 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
More example sentences
  • 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.’
  • 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.
  • He had pencilled a price of four pounds and fifty pence onto the first page.
1.1 (abbreviation d) A former British coin and monetary unit equal to one twelfth of a shilling and 240th of a pound.
Example sentences
  • Payment was made in cash of the pounds, shillings and pence variety and the ‘luck penny’ handed over.
  • Prior to decimalization, the pound was divided into twenty shillings, each shilling into twelve pennies and each penny into four farthings.
  • Before 1971 there were 240 pennies in a pound, 12 pennies in a shilling, and maths lessons were a lot more difficult.
1.2North American informal A one-cent coin.
Example sentences
  • To make things easier, the penny will also go up in value one cent each year until it is worth five cents.
  • The getter collects all the materials needed for the activity, which include shaving cream, 2 paper towels, and a penny.
  • ‘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.
1.3(In biblical use) a denarius.
Example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
2 (pennies) A small sum of money: any chance to save a few pennies is welcome
More example sentences
  • And before that I always saved up my pennies in a money box for rainy days.
  • 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.
  • 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.
2.1 [with negative] (a penny) Used for emphasis to denote no money at all: we didn’t get paid a penny
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I said it wouldn't require a penny of government money.


On the different uses of the plural forms pence and pennies, see pence (usage).



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
More example sentences
  • Now, now, a bad penny always turns up somewhere.
  • "A bad penny always turns up," said my grandmother the day I was born.
  • Of course, it has been said that a bad penny always turns up again.

be two (or ten) a penny

chiefly British Be plentiful and consequently of little value: princes used to be two a penny in Hungary
More example sentences
  • Museums of modern art are two a penny in contemporary-art land.
  • Ghosts, goblins, fairies, sprites seem to be two a penny in Skye.
  • In Europe, cable-cars are almost two a penny, but they are extremely rare in the USA.
numerous, abundant, thick on the ground, profuse, plentiful, prolific, copious, legion, innumerable, countless, infinite, numberless;
in large numbers, by the gross, in strength, by the yard;
very common, widespread, popular, universal, ubiquitous
literary myriad, innumerous, manifold

count (or watch or US pinch) the (or your) pennies

Be careful about how much one spends: George and Betty have had to watch the pennies since he took early retirement
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • They favor incremental improvements over time and watch the pennies.

every penny

All of the available money: she has spent every penny on the dinner
More example sentences
  • Every penny raised through our joint appeal will be spent improving the services provided to Scottish carers.
  • 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.

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
More example sentences
  • Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound - might as well violate the First Amendment, too, whenever we think it will help things.
  • 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.

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.
Example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.

the penny dropped

informal, chiefly British Used to indicate that someone has finally realized something: I was about to ask Jack who it was, when the penny suddenly dropped
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • Finally the penny dropped - the thought of being embarrassed in front of the elite coaches and players of English rugby frightened me to death.
  • Suddenly the penny dropped when some of the more familiar names were just a bit too familiar.

a penny for your thoughts

Used to ask someone what they are thinking about.
Example sentences
  • 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!
  • 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 pawn2 and (with reference to shape) pan1.

  • The English word penny is related to Dutch penning and German Pfennig, but their ultimate origin is unknown. The penny, originally of pure silver, then later of copper (hence the colloquial term coppers), was first used in England in the 8th century. The origins of the phrase the penny has dropped lie in gambling arcades. The idea is of a coin-operated slot machine whirring into action when you insert a small coin. The reference to penny gives a clue as to the age of the expression, as it goes back to the 1950s. Inflation has also caught up with proverbial sayings such as in for a penny, in for a pound, used to express someone's intention to see an undertaking through—it dates from the late 17th century, when a penny would have been a significant investment to many. You would need at least 20p now to spend a penny in a British public lavatory. This phrase comes from a time when coin-operated locks were commonly found on the doors of public toilets, operated by the old, heavy pre-decimal pennies. These pennies went out of use on 5 February 1971. See also pound.

Words that rhyme with penny

antennae, any, Benny, blenny, Dene, fenny, jenny, Kenny, Kilkenny, Lenny, many, penne, Rennie

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: penny

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