sanc·​tion | \ ˈsaŋ(k)-shən How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Definition of sanction

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a formal decree especially : an ecclesiastical decree
2a obsolete : a solemn agreement : oath
b : something that makes an oath binding
3 : the detriment, loss of reward, or coercive intervention annexed to a violation of a law as a means of enforcing the law
4a : a consideration, principle, or influence (as of conscience) that impels to moral action or determines moral judgment
b : a mechanism of social control for enforcing a society's standards
c : explicit or official approval, permission, or ratification : approbation
5 : an economic or military coercive measure adopted usually by several nations in concert for forcing a nation violating international law to desist or yield to adjudication


sanctioned; sanctioning\ ˈsaŋ(k)-​sh(ə-​)niŋ How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Definition of sanction (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to make valid or binding usually by a formal procedure (such as ratification)
2 : to give effective or authoritative approval or consent to … such characters … look, talk, and act in ways sanctioned by society and novelistic tradition …— Lawrence Chua
3a : to attach a sanction or penalty to the violation of (a right, obligation, or command) … the status, procedures, rights, and duties of members are carefully defined by rules that are sanctioned by fines should they be contravened by members.— Malcolm Ruel
b : to impose a sanction or penalty upon … a Long Island brokerage firm that, at the time, had serious Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC fraud charges pending against it and has since been heavily fined and sanctioned.— Molly Ivins

Other Words from sanction


sanctionable \ ˈsaŋ(k)-​sh(ə-​)nə-​bəl How to pronounce sanction (audio) \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for sanction


approve, endorse, sanction, accredit, certify mean to have or express a favorable opinion of. approve often implies no more than this but may suggest considerable esteem or admiration. the parents approve of the marriage endorse suggests an explicit statement of support. publicly endorsed her for Senator sanction implies both approval and authorization. the President sanctioned covert operations accredit and certify usually imply official endorsement attesting to conformity to set standards. the board voted to accredit the college must be certified to teach

Sanction Has Legal Origins

The noun sanction, meaning "authoritative approval" or "a coercive measure," entered English in the 15th century, and originally referred to a formal decree or law, especially an ecclesiastical decree. (The Latin sancire, meaning "to make holy," is an ancestor.) The noun's meaning then extended in different directions. By the end of the 17th century, it could refer to both a means of enforcing a law (a sense that in the 20th century we began using especially for economic penalties against nations violating international law) and the process of formally approving or ratifying a law. When the verb sanction appeared in the 18th century, it had to do with ratifying laws as well, but it soon acquired an additional, looser sense: "to approve."

Examples of sanction in a Sentence

Noun The country acted without the sanction of the other nations. Their policy has legal sanction. Verb The government has sanctioned the use of force. His actions were not sanctioned by his superiors.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Since his sanction, Deripaska has not been to his D.C. residence, a source said. Matthew Mosk, ABC News, 19 Oct. 2021 None of the countries represented at the summit have moved in lockstep with the U.S. to sanction Russia, a key foreign policy priority for the Biden administration. Aamer Madhani, ajc, 16 July 2022 Plans to sanction Abramovich were scrapped after Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky asked President Joe Biden to wait on penalizing Abramovich due to his role in the negotiations, the Journal reported. Derek Saul, Forbes, 6 June 2022 But Ávila hopes the summit’s other participants will pressure the Biden administration to sanction Guatemalan officials who have links to organized crime and have looted the national treasury. Soudi Jiménez, Los Angeles Times, 3 June 2022 Qatar had emerged as one of the best hopes for European countries that are reliant on Russian gas and began looking for alternatives after the invasion of Ukraine prompted the West to sanction Moscow and its institutions. Benoit Faucon, WSJ, 26 May 2022 The European Parliament on Thursday passed a package of measures that urges the European Union to sanction politicians who still receive huge sums of money from Russian businesses. Patrick Smith, NBC News, 19 May 2022 Serebrennikov noted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told U.S. President Joe Biden not to sanction Abramovich, because the oligarch would be beneficial to Russia-Ukraine peace talks. Mia Galuppo, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 May 2022 Countries in both Europe and Asia appear to see this clearly now—note how quickly the Biden administration enlisted Asian allies such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and even Singapore to sanction Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Chris Horton, The Atlantic, 6 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The state elections commission decided not to sanction the 10 Republicans for their actions. Lawrence Andrea, Journal Sentinel, 9 June 2022 On the economic and political front, the U.S. and its allies have moved to further isolate and sanction the Kremlin. Mstyslav Chernov And Yuras Karmanau, Anchorage Daily News, 12 Mar. 2022 On the economic and political front, the U.S. and its allies moved to further isolate and sanction the Kremlin. Yuras Karmanau, ajc, 12 Mar. 2022 On the economic and political front, the U.S. and its allies moved to further isolate and sanction the Kremlin. Evgeniy Maloletka,, 11 Mar. 2022 On the economic and political front, the U.S. and its allies moved to further isolate and sanction the Kremlin., 11 Mar. 2022 Stefanie Babst, a former senior NATO official, also claimed in an article for the German Council on Foreign Relations this month that there was little appetite in Germany to sanction the pipeline. Caitlin Mcfall, Fox News, 22 Jan. 2022 Illicit-finance experts say the real impact will come if governments also sanction close relatives. Josh Meyer, USA TODAY, 26 Apr. 2022 At the White House on Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. will sanction Russian banks and sovereign debt. Neal Earley, Arkansas Online, 24 Feb. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sanction.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of sanction


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1778, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sanction


Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin sanction-, sanctio, from sancire to make holy — more at sacred

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The first known use of sanction was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

7 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Sanction.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for sanction


sanc·​tion | \ ˈsaŋk-shən How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Kids Definition of sanction

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : official approval or permission The soldiers' conduct did not have the king's sanction.
2 : an action (as the ending of financial aid) taken by one or more nations to make another nation comply with a law or rule


sanctioned; sanctioning

Kids Definition of sanction (Entry 2 of 2)

: to officially accept or allow The coaches sanctioned the new rule.


sanc·​tion | \ ˈsaŋk-shən How to pronounce sanction (audio) \

Legal Definition of sanction

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a punitive or coercive measure or action that results from failure to comply with a law, rule, or order a sanction for contempt
2 : explicit or official approval
3 : an economic or military coercive measure adopted usually by several nations in concert for forcing a nation violating international law to desist or yield to adjudication


transitive verb

Legal Definition of sanction (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to give official approval or consent to : ratify
2 : to impose a sanction on sanctioned the lawyer for professional misconduct

More from Merriam-Webster on sanction

Nglish: Translation of sanction for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sanction for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about sanction


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