Venal vs Venial? Which One Should You Use When Writing?

vena vs venial

The English language has no lack of words with similar spellings and sounds. The confusion ascertaining which is what or when to use which word arises when the words have relatable or intermingling meanings. The terms “venal” and “venial” cause confusion in more than a handful of people’s minds because of their similitudes in their definitions, besides the obvious spelling and pronunciation resemblances.

The term “venal” means “corrupt” or “immoral”. Most politicians are “venal”. “Venial” denotes “pardonable” or “forgivable”, as in “venial sin”. “Venal” politicians can be guilty of huge scams or “venial” crimes. If their act of crime has had minimal adverse effects, it’s “venial” and not “venal”.

The spell-check built into your word processor will detect or highlight almost all spelling errors in your texts. But since both “venal” and “venial” are valid English words, the tool may not come to your rescue if you inadvertently use one of the words instead of the other. Keep reading to learn more about the terms and meanings, so you don’t have to rely heavily on software programs.

venal sign in wooden blocks

“Venal” – Definition

The term “venal” refers to “any person or thing that can be bought – either through money or using any other valuable means”. An “immoral” or “corrupt” legislator, for instance, is “venal”. Other than being directly involved, an individual who is indirectly a party to or abets a corrupt act can also be described as “venal”. For example, a politician who assists a proven criminal in some way or another is also “venal”.

“Venal” is an adjective. Its noun form is “venality”, and the adverb version is “venally”. It has its origins in the Latin term “venalis”, which denoted “something that was up for sale or sold”. The word is also believed to have taken its inspiration from “venel”, an Old French term, which means “for sale (concerning prostitutes)”. The word “venal” made its foray into the English language during the 17th century.

Considering the word’s negative connotations, it’s possible the “venal” transactions of the past were disreputable or dishonest. A “venal” transaction also signifies “something that can be bought without being earned”. For instance, a businessperson receiving an honorary doctorate from an elite university may have got it courtesy of a “venal” transaction carried out behind the doors.

“Venal” could also mean “related to a vein”. An individual could be called “venal” if they usually get to the root of things. In other words, they like to discuss a topic at hand in tremendous detail before judging things or coming to a conclusion on it.

“Venial” – Definition

“Venial” refers to “an act that’s forgivable or pardonable”. In other words, “venial faults” are excusable. No one gets hanged or jailed for a lifetime for having committed a “venial” crime.

Terms that mean the complete opposite of “venial” are “unpardonable”, “unjustifiable”, “indefensible”, etc. If you’re a devout Christian, getting drunk occasionally is a small or venial sin.

Homicide, however, is not venial – irrespective of the religion you practice or position or status you hold in the society. The opposite of “venial” is “mortal”. A murder, for instance, is a mortal sin.

Like “venal”, “venial” has its roots in Latin as well, having originated from “venia”, which meant “favor” or “pardon”. Also, similar to “venal”, “venial” could mean “related to a vein”. However, the term’s secondary or alternate meaning came to the fore only several hundred years after its original definition was established.

The Confusion Between “Venal” and “Venial”

The terms “venal” and “venial” have similar spellings, and they sound quite alike too. But, of course, they do not mean the same thing – there are connections, however, as mentioned before.

Besides the similar pronunciations and spellings, the confusion between the two also arises because the definitions are quite related or are on the same tangent. In other words, both the words denote “being capable of and/or committing a wrongdoing”.

Both “venial” and “venal” could be interpreted in different ways. For instance, a politician committing adultery and lying about it could be called “venal”, or the act could be deemed “venial”. A politician accepting bribes disguised as gifts is corrupt and, therefore, “venal”.

However, suppose the legislation that the politician supported had only a few adverse outcomes and many positives to boast. In that case, the corrupt behavior could go down as a “venial” sin or may get overlooked entirely.

Ascertaining When to Use Either of the Two

The relationship between the two terms and their meanings is, of course, confusing. Therefore, when trying to ascertain which word to use when, look at the severity of the crime and the act’s aftermath. Another critical point to note is “venal” is typically associated with people, whereas “venial” is linked with an individual’s actions.

A mnemonic trick can also be employed to remember which word to use when. The term “venial” rhymes with “genial”. “Venal”, on the other hand, has a sound corresponding with “penal”. “Venial” sins are not “genial” or likable. Similarly, a “venal” politician is likely to be prosecuted or subjected to “penal” or criminal codes.

Remember or note these corresponding or opposite links to remember the two terms’ meanings and correct usage in texts.

Using the Term “Venal” in Writings

“Venal” is primarily used in texts as an adjective. It’s typically used to throw light on the character and actions of bad politicians or dishonest people with influence or power. It’s almost never used in contexts where a major or economy-debilitating scam is being discussed.

Also, as mentioned above, “venal” could be used to signify issues relating to the vein – both literally and figuratively. If an individual likes to get to the heart of a problem, they are “venal”. When used in medical contexts, the term is referring to the actual vein.

venial sin in the dictionary

Using the Word “Venial” in Texts

Though “venial” has been around as a term for centuries (since around the 14th century to be precise), it is not a very commonly used term in English. Its synonyms such as “pardonable” and “forgivable” are a lot more standard. Also, like “venal”, the word “venial” is or can also be incorporated into sentences as an adjective. Here are a few example sentences illustrating the same:

  • I was not expecting you to call these out as venial errors.
  • Was that a venial sin?

Both “venal” and “venial” are not used as nouns, verbs, or any other form of word in texts. If a word you’re thinking of to complete a sentence is anything but an adjective, it’s certainly not “venal” or “venial”.

Example Sentences with the Word “Venal”

The following are sentences incorporating the term “venal”:

  • They had a venal understanding with the cops.
  • That judge is venal or can be easily bought.
  • The villain in the movie was vicious and venal.
  • The country’s cultural scene is turning vile, parochial, and venal.
  • They were not any less self-interested or venal than others in the room.
  • The number of venal politicians around easily outnumber the upright ones.
  • By bribing voters, he committed a venal offense.
  • Since he was raised by a venal man, it’s not surprising to see him not doing well in his life.
  • The venal cop accepted the bribe from the drug dealer.
  • The venal minister was apparently lying when he said to the church members that the donations will absolve them of all their sins.
  • When it was found that he was a venal person who often took bribes for doing his job, he was thrown out (not literally) of the office with immediate effect.

Example Sentences with the Term “Venial”

Here is a list of sentences using the word “venial”:

  • Stealing the menu card of a restaurant as a souvenir is a venial offense.
  • Catholics once considered eating meat on a Friday a venial sin.
  • For religious Muslims, eating pork is much more than just a venial sin.
  • Some venial transgressions can completely disqualify a politician from contesting for elections or participating in a political campaign.
  • Not everybody commits mortal sins, but most people are guilty of certain venial crimes.
  • The church priest explained there are other kinds of sins and not just the venial types.
  • Venial sins do not meet mortal sins’ conditions.
  • Venial sins warrant some form of penance.
  • Personal sins can be either venial or immortal.
  • Because the principal believed the students committed a venial or minor offense, he gave the boys a light punishment.
  • We, at times, excuse our daughter’s venial lies.
  • The officer pulled him over and just warned him of his venial crime.


veins on a leaf

Neither “venal” nor “venial” denote positive attributes. Based on the context in which the terms are used, one could be more “forgiving” than the other. At times, they may overlap too.

If you read the news, you may not have come across the term “venal” too much, but you can undoubtedly relegate the word to those “corrupt” politicians. An act of corruption – irrespective of its scale – or infidelity is no venial crime or pardonable.

However, suppose you get drunk and get behind the steering wheel. In that case, it’s “venial” or “forgivable”, provided there were no casualties or if no one was hit due to your recklessness.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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