I don't know the difference between the words 'condemn somebody' and 'sentence someone' in court terminology ane making this question I am going to discover their right place of usage. Which word sounds natural in the following sentence:

  • He was condemned to 100 lashes of the whip.
  • He was sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip.

2 Answers 2


In most contexts there's no meaningful difference, but a couple of points are worth making. Firstly, note that over the past century there's been a significant shift towards using sentenced rather than condemned, particularly where the "punishment" is meted out by the judicial process.

Also note that figurative usages such as "If I don't pass my exams I'll be condemned to spend the rest of my life working behind the counter at McDonalds" rarely use the "legalistic" term sentenced.

Finally, note that it's quite possible to condemn a person, thing, or idea with the general sense of "strongly disapprove of", but without specifying any particular "punishment". For example,...

I condemn your ignorance and narrow-mindedness.

...where it simply wouldn't be valid English to substitute sentence.

  • Thank you very much FumbleFingers. It was really helpful and informative. ;) Just I though differently; I though “Sentence” is usable everywhere, while “condemn” is only used for serious punishments. It was what I know. Now I know they mean the same, but "sentence is used mostly in judicial matters, while 'condemn' can be used figuratively and as the saying goes it's more open word."
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 13:55
  • If this question relates to your earlier one about the Holocaust, I should point out that at least some people (certainly including myself) wouldn't be entirely happy with, say, "Six million Jews were sentenced to death by the Nazis", because that would tend to bestow more "legal status" on the process than is justified. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 13:57
  • Aha, now I'm following you better. Now Its become clear for me that for some reasons, many people have not reached to a consensus about the details of this catastrophe yet. Thank you FumbleFingers. It was helpful too.
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 14:02
  • The Holocaust is effectively the archetypal war crime, as condemned in no uncertain terms by the Nuremberg Trials (which resulted in a number of active participants being sentenced to death). We may have trouble understanding how such an atrocity could have occurred in the first place, but I'm sure civilised people in general are largely in agreement about what actually happened, and how they feel about it. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 14:10
  • I have nothing to say. God damn those who causers that occurrence. But regarding your final informative comment, as I understood, it's possible to use "condemned" instead of "sentenced". Right?
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 14:17

In current usage, "sentence" refers to a punishment determined by a court or other legal process. "Condemn" refers to a moral judgment.

"Sentence" always implies a specific punishment, as in, "Mr Brown was sentenced to ten years in prison." You could say someone was sentenced without specifying just what the punishment was, but the understanding would be that there was some specific punishment.

"Condemn" may or may not have any specific punishment. You can say, for example, "The National Prohibition Society strongly condemns all consumption of alcohol." As worded, that statement does not say that they call for making it illegal, just that they say it is a bad thing. (They may indeed want it to be illegal, but that's not what the statement says.) "Condemn" can also be used to describe a punishment that someone suffers, such as "He we condemned to death." It need not be a legal punishment. "Sally's ruthless ambition condemned her to a life of loneliness." You couldn't use "sentence" in that context.

  • I think this is a better answer than the accepted answer, and wonder if the O.P. was perhaps too quick to accept an answer. (To add to this answer, though, I think you've deftly explained why He was sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip would the better choice most of the time.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 21:41

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