im·​pu·​ni·​ty im-ˈpyü-nə-tē How to pronounce impunity (audio)
: exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss
laws were flouted with impunity

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Impunity (like the words pain, penal, and punish) traces to the Latin noun poena, meaning "punishment." The Latin word, in turn, came from Greek poinē, meaning "payment" or "penalty." People acting with impunity have prompted use of the word since the 1500s. An illustrative example from 1660 penned by Englishman Roger Coke reads: "This unlimited power of doing anything with impunity, will only beget a confidence in kings of doing what they [desire]." While royals may act with impunity more easily than others, the word impunity can be applied to the lowliest of beings as well as the loftiest: "The local hollies seem to have lots of berries this year.… A single one won't harm you, but eating a handful would surely make you pretty sick, and might kill you. Birds such as robins, mockingbirds, and cedar waxwings eat them with impunity." (Karl Anderson, The Gloucester County Times, 22 Dec. 2002).

Examples of impunity in a Sentence

she mistakenly believed that she could insult people with impunity
Recent Examples on the Web The military police could kick down any door with impunity, and the new band had to play in secrecy. Matthew Dursum, SPIN, 20 Nov. 2023 Those inequalities, combined with several scandals, confirmed for many that Argentine citizens don’t receive equal treatment, from certain politicians’ flouting the country’s intense lockdowns with impunity, to others’ receiving preferential access to vaccines. Max Klaver, The Christian Science Monitor, 20 Nov. 2023 Israel has acted with impunity as a U.S.-backed superpower and now expects to remove one million people from their homes with limited warning after a week of deadly siege. Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling, The New Republic, 13 Oct. 2023 In dictatorships, leaders needn’t fear those consequences and can lie with impunity. Daniel Immerwahr, The New Yorker, 13 Nov. 2023 Online, some who responded to Jackson appeared to echo her belief that many people are afraid to post in fear of losing their jobs, but that Schumer appears to be able to post her feelings with impunity. Kalhan Rosenblatt, NBC News, 4 Nov. 2023 The only tools that can slow down crawlers are opt-out lists and do-not-crawl directives, all of which are optional and rely on the conscience of AI companies, and of course none of it is verifiable or enforceable and companies can say one thing and do another with impunity. Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, 3 Nov. 2023 This needs to go hand in hand with a fundamental shift in the U.S. approach to the question of Palestine, to address the underlying causes of the violence: Israel’s decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people and its virtual impunity in doing so. Laila El-Haddad, The New Republic, 1 Nov. 2023 In the case of impunity for Hirohito, Bass encourages readers to consider the virtues of pragmatism. Foreign Affairs, 20 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'impunity.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle French or Latin; Middle French impunité, from Latin impunitat-, impunitas, from impune without punishment, from in- + poena punishment — more at pain entry 1

First Known Use

1532, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of impunity was in 1532


Dictionary Entries Near impunity

Cite this Entry

“Impunity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


im·​pu·​ni·​ty im-ˈpyü-nət-ē How to pronounce impunity (audio)
: freedom from punishment, harm, or loss

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