[ sangk-shuhn ]
/ ˈsæŋk ʃən /


verb (used with object)

Origin of sanction

1555–65; < Latin sānctiōn- (stem of sānctiō), equivalent to sānct(us) (past participle of sancīre to prescribe by law) + -iōn- -ion



What does sanction mean?

Sanction has two main senses that are almost opposites: it can refer to authorizing or approving something, or to penalizing or disciplining someone or something.

Sanction can be used as a verb (meaning to authorize or to penalize) or a noun (meaning approval or penalty). It is most commonly used in official contexts. As a noun referring to a penalty, it is especially applied to situations in which one country’s government imposes economic sanctions on another to try to force it to comply with laws or certain expectations.

Example: Economic sanctions are intended to force regimes to play by the rules, but they often end up hurting the average citizen.

Where does sanction come from?

The first records of sanction come from the 1500s. It is derived from the Latin sancīre, meaning “to decree” or “to prescribe by law.” Sancīre also means “to make holy” and is the root of words like sanctify and sanctuary.

Sanction originally referred to an official decree, but by the 1800s it had acquired its senses of both approval and punishment and had come to be used as both a verb and a noun. Today, sanction is commonly used in phrases like economic sanctions or international sanctions. A country might place sanctions (such as restrictions on trade and financial transactions) on another country as a penalty for violating international law or as a way of trying to force that country to adhere to certain laws or rules.

Sanction meaning “authorize” is also often used in the context of government actions, especially those officially approved by a top official, like the president. But it can be used for any official approval, such as by an organization that has sanctioned (certified) events to take place (these are often called sanctioned events).

Because it has meanings that are nearly the opposite of each other, sanction can be considered a contranym or a Janus word (a reference to the Roman god Janus, who is often shown with two heads facing opposite directions).

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What are some other forms related to sanction?


  • sanctionable (adjective)
  • sanctioner (noun)
  • sanctionative (adjective)
  • sanctionless (adjective)

What are some synonyms for sanction?

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

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


How is sanction used in real life?

Sanction is perhaps most commonly used as a plural noun to refer to penalties levied by nations against other nations. It is also commonly used as a verb in the context of officially approving something.



Try using sanction!

Is sanction used correctly in the following sentence? 

I’m the top person in charge, and I never sanctioned this event, so it is not official.

Example sentences from the Web for sanction

British Dictionary definitions for sanction

/ (ˈsæŋkʃən) /


verb (tr)

to give authority to; permit
to make authorized; confirm

Derived forms of sanction

sanctionable, adjective sanctioner, noun sanctionless, adjective

Word Origin for sanction

C16: from Latin sanctiō the establishment of an inviolable decree, from sancīre to decree