[ lahy-suh ns ]
/ ˈlaɪ səns /


verb (used with object), li·censed, li·cens·ing.

to grant authoritative permission or license to.

Origin of license

1325–75; Middle English licence < Middle French < Medieval Latin licentia authorization, Latin: freedom, equivalent to licent- (stem of licēns, present participle of licēre to be allowed) + -ia -ia; see -ence



certificate degree diploma license


What does license mean?

License means permission to do something, especially formal permission from a government or other authority. The word often refers to the proof of that permission, such as a card or certificate.

A license can be required for many different kinds of activities, especially those that may be considered dangerous if a person does not have the proper training. The most common types of licenses are driver’s licenses, professional licenses, and licenses for businesses. Those who hold such licenses are said to be licensed. License can also be used as a verb, meaning “to grant permission” or “to give a license to.” In British English, it is commonly spelled licence.

Example: I have permission to operate here, and if you doubt it you can even see my license.

Where does license come from?

The first records of license in English come from the 1300s. It comes from the Latin word licentia, which means “authorization” or “freedom” and is based on the Latin verb licēre, meaning “to be allowed.”

In a general sense, license refers to permission. But it most commonly refers to official permission, especially from a government. Your driver’s license is the card in your wallet with a bad picture of you on it, but that card represents the permission you have been given to drive. In most places, you have to earn that permission by taking a test and proving that you’re a good driver (OK, that you have a basic ability to operate a vehicle). The same thing goes for many licenses, including those to practice law or medicine—you have to prove that you have the knowledge or skill necessary to do those things, because otherwise you could seriously hurt people or mess up their lives. There are many other examples of professions that require licenses, and there are also licenses for recreational activities. In some places, you need a hunting license or a fishing license.

It’s not only individual people who can hold licenses—some organizations and businesses require licenses, too. For example, in the United States, restaurants need a license to serve alcohol.

Though license is most commonly used in an official sense, it can be used generally to mean “permission” or “authority,” as in Your promotion doesn’t give you a license to be rude to your coworkers. 

License is sometimes used in a figurative sense, as in poetic license, which is the freedom of artists to change something for effect, even if it’s not correct or realistic. James Bond’s famous license to kill isn’t figurative or metaphorical—he literally has permission to kill people if he considers it necessary to complete a mission (in fact, that’s what it means to have “double-0” status in the books and movies in which Agent 007 appears).

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What are some other forms related to license?

  • licensed (verb, adjective)
  • licensee (noun)
  • licensor (noun)
  • licensable (adjective)
  • delicense (verb)

What are some synonyms for license?

What are some words that share a root or word element with license

What are some words that often get used in discussing license?

How is license used in real life?

License is commonly used to refer to the document that proves that you have permission to do something, such as drive a car, practice medicine, serve alcohol, operate a boat, hunt, fish, and many other activities.

Try using license!

Which of the following words could be considered an antonym (opposite) for license?

A. permission
B. permit
C. ban
D. authorization

Example sentences from the Web for license

British Dictionary definitions for license

/ (ˈlaɪsəns) /

verb (tr)

to grant or give a licence for (something, such as the sale of alcohol)
to give permission to or for

Derived forms of license

licensable, adjective licenser or licensor, noun