Meaning of sanction


Sanction has two nearly opposite meanings: to sanction can be to approve of something, but it can also mean to punish, or speak harshly to. Likewise, a sanction can be a punishment or approval. Very confusing — the person who invented this word should be publicly sanctioned!

See if you can guess the meaning of sanction in the following contexts. Before invading Iraq, the U.S. and its allies first imposed sanctions on the country, refusing to supply the country with much-needed trade items. Did you guess that sanction = “punishment”? You were right! But by trading with China at the same time, the U.S. quietly sanctioned that nation’s known instances of human rights abuses. Did you guess that sanction = “approval”? You’re right again!

Definitions of sanction
  1. noun

    official permission or approval


    authorisation, authority, authorization

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    type of:


    approval to do something

  2. noun

    formal and explicit approval


    countenance, endorsement, imprimatur, indorsement, warrant

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    O.K., OK, okay, okeh, okey

    an endorsement

    an endorsement made in a passport that allows the bearer to enter the country issuing it
    nihil obstat

    the phrase used by the official censor of the Roman Catholic Church to say that a publication has been examined and contains nothing offensive to the church
    type of:

    approval, commendation

    a message expressing a favorable opinion

  3. noun

    the act of final authorization

    “it had the
    sanction of the church”
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    benefit of clergy

    sanction by a religious rite

    by the sanction or authority of
    nihil obstat

    authoritative approval
    type of:

    authorisation, authorization, empowerment

    the act of conferring legality or sanction or formal warrant

  4. verb

    give authority or permission to

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    type of:

    authorise, authorize, empower

    give or delegate power or authority to

  5. verb

    give sanction to


    O.K., approve, okay

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    disapprove, reject

    deem wrong or inappropriate

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    approve officially
    back, endorse, indorse, plump for, plunk for, support

    be behind; approve of

    support a person for a position
    guarantee, warrant

    stand behind and guarantee the quality, accuracy, or condition of
    champion, defend

    protect or fight for as a champion
    type of:

    authorise, authorize, clear, pass

    grant authorization or clearance for

  6. verb

    give religious sanction to, such as through on oath

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    type of:

    O.K., approve, okay

    give sanction to

  7. noun

    a mechanism of social control for enforcing a society’s standards

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    type of:

    social control

    control exerted (actively or passively) by group action

  8. noun

    the act of punishing


    penalisation, penalization, penalty, punishment

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    castigation, chastisement

    verbal punishment
    corporal punishment

    the infliction of physical injury on someone convicted of committing a crime
    cruel and unusual punishment

    punishment prohibited by the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution; includes torture or degradation or punishment too severe for the crime committed

    a punishment in which a student must stay at school after others have gone home
    correction, discipline

    the act of punishing
    economic strangulation

    punishment of a group by cutting off commercial dealings with them

    putting someone in prison or in jail as lawful punishment
    medicine, music

    punishment for one’s actions

    punishment inflicted on yourself

    threat of a penalty
    penance, self-abasement, self-mortification

    voluntary self-punishment in order to atone for some wrongdoing
    beating, drubbing, lacing, licking, thrashing, trouncing, whacking

    the act of inflicting corporal punishment with repeated blows

    self-punishment inflicted by whipping

    the act of slapping on the buttocks
    electric shock

    the use of electricity to administer punishment or torture
    capital punishment, death penalty, executing, execution

    putting a condemned person to death
    gantlet, gauntlet

    a form of punishment in which a person is forced to run between two lines of men facing each other and armed with clubs or whips to beat the victim
    kick in the butt

    punishment inflicted by kicking the victim in the behind
    lapidation, stoning

    the act of pelting with stones; punishment inflicted by throwing stones at the victim (even unto death)
    type of:

    social control

    control exerted (actively or passively) by group action

  9. verb

    impose a penalty on; inflict punishment on


    penalise, penalize, punish

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    avenge, retaliate, revenge

    take revenge for a perceived wrong

    smear the body of (someone) with tar and feathers; done in some societies as punishment
    execute, put to death

    kill as a means of socially sanctioned punishment

    punish by putting in a pillory

    inflict severe punishment on

    punish with an arbitrary penalty
    victimise, victimize

    punish unjustly

    punish severely; excoriate
    correct, discipline, sort out

    punish in order to gain control or enforce obedience
    get back, get even

    take revenge or even out a score

    kill by nailing onto a cross

    burn at the stake
    hang, string up

    kill by hanging

Word Family

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