Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of guilt

Related terms

Definition of guilt


  • IPA: /ɡilt/
  • Rhymes: -ɪlt
  • Homophone: gilt

Etymology 1

    From Middle English gilt, gult, from Old English gylt (“guilt, sin, offense, crime, fault”), of obscure origin. Perhaps connected with Old English ġieldan (“to yield, pay, pay for, reward, requite, render, worship, serve, sacrifice to, punish”).


guilt (uncountable)

  1. Responsibility for wrongdoing.
  2. Awareness of having done wrong.
  3. The fact of having done wrong.
  4. (law) The state of having been found guilty or admitted guilt in legal proceedings.

Etymology 2

    From Middle English gilten, gylten, from Old English gyltan (“to commit sin, be guilty”), from gylt (“guilt, sin, offense, crime, fault”).


guilt (third-person singular simple present guilts, present participle guilting, simple past and past participle guilted)

  1. (intransitive, obsolete) To commit offenses; act criminally.
  2. (transitive) To cause someone to feel guilt, particularly in order to influence their behaviour.

    He didn't want to do it, but his wife guilted him into it.

Further reading

Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes-accurately or not-that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.

'A capacity for guilt seems to define our sense of what it is to be human: on this psychoanalysis and the Judaeo-Christian religions agree...And anyone who invents an alternative story about all this will be taken to be trying to avoid guilt, to be immature, utopian or psychopathic'.

Moral and legal definitions

"Guilt" is the obligation of a person who has violated a moral standard to bear the sanctions imposed by that moral standard. In legal terms, guilt means having been found to have violated a criminal law, though law also raises 'the issue of defences, pleas, the mitigation of offences, and the defeasibility of claims'.

A three-fold division is sometimes made between ' objective or legal guilt, which occurs when society's laws have been broken...Social guilt...[over] an unwritten law of social expectation', and finally the way ' Personal guilt occurs when someone compromises one's own standards'.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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