“Unfortunately, the referee was venal and had no problem making calls that clearly favored the underdog team – if the price was right.”

As used in the sentence above, what is the best definition of venal?

Check your answer!

Choice A - Open to bribery
Choice B - Petty or insubstantial
Choice C - Related to movement or athletics
Choice D - Producing venom or hateful language


Venal (adjective) – willing to be “bought” for money, or open to bribery; or, associated with bribery

Venality (noun) – the state of being motivated by money and open to bribery

GRE pro tips:

Venal kind of sounds like venom, and it is true that venal individuals are rather snaky, or at least willing to associate with snaky people for personal gain. A venal person can generally be “bought” with money; they will be willing to exchange their influence or power for the right price. Examples of venal individuals include: (1) an NBA referee who conspires to “fix” games in order to win money from betting; and (2) a politician who passes laws that strictly favor his financial donors.

Note that it is important not mix up venal and venial. Venial transgressions are pardonable offenses or not that big of a deal – examples could be losing your temper or, perhaps, using a curse word. To most, being venal is probably a bigger deal that engaging in venial transgressions, as venal indicates that you are intrinsically motivated by bribery – so, perhaps, rotten to the core.

Example sentences:

“The venal judge was willing to acquit the drug dealers—for the right price.”

“Considering his mother’s venality, no one was surprised that he grew up to become an embezzler.”