im·​pu·​ni·​ty | \ im-ˈpyü-nə-tē How to pronounce impunity (audio) \

Definition of impunity

: exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss laws were flouted with impunity

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for impunity


Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Did You Know?

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, as in this 1660 example by Englishman Roger Coke: "This unlimited power of doing anything with impunity, will only beget a confidence in kings of doing what they list [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: "Certain beetles have learned to detoxify [willow] leaves in their digestive tract so they can eat them with impunity" (Smithsonian, September 1986).

Examples of impunity in a Sentence

she mistakenly believed that she could insult people with impunity
Recent Examples on the Web Josh Jackson has been attacking the rim with impunity off of the bench. Omari Sankofa Ii, Detroit Free Press, "Delon Wright injured during Detroit Pistons' road loss to Memphis Grizzlies," 20 Feb. 2021 Biden told Putin in the phone call, first reported by The Associated Press, that the U.S, would defend itself and take action, which could include further sanctions, to ensure that Moscow does not act with impunity, officials said. Matthew Lee, Anchorage Daily News, "Biden and Putin show caution on big concerns in their first phone call," 26 Jan. 2021 American policies, from law enforcement impunity to the disparate effects of covid-19, are killing Black people. Washington Post, "The civil rights era was supposed to drastically change America. It didn’t.," 23 Dec. 2020 House managers argued throughout the first three days of the trial that under the defense theory, a president desperate to cling to power at the end of his term effectively gets a free pass to violate the Constitution with impunity. Todd J. Gillman, Dallas News, "Trump defense aims for quick end to impeachment trial, glossing past evidence of incitement to focus on fact he’s now an ex-president," 12 Feb. 2021 Elite impunity may be one of the defining features of America’s tilt toward oligarchy. Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, "Leon Black and the American Tradition of Impunity," 26 Jan. 2021 Kashmiris for years have accused Indian troops of targeting civilians and abuse of power with sweeping impunity. Shah Abbas, Star Tribune, "In Kashmir, empty grave for teenager killed by Indian forces," 7 Jan. 2021 Mexico’s northern states, where cartels operate with impunity, have become particularly deadly in recent years for migrants, mostly from Central America, who are trying to reach the United States. Oscar Lopez,, "Mexico arrests police officers over massacre," 4 Feb. 2021 Blackwater guards, who as State Department contractors were responsible for providing diplomatic security, were already seen as operating with impunity in Iraq. Eric Tucker, Anchorage Daily News, "After pardon, Blackwater guard defiant: ‘I acted correctly’," 3 Jan. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'impunity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of impunity

1532, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for impunity

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about impunity

Time Traveler for impunity Time Traveler

The first known use of impunity was in 1532

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about impunity

Statistics for impunity

Last Updated

7 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Impunity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for impunity



English Language Learners Definition of impunity

: freedom from punishment, harm, or loss

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on impunity

What made you want to look up impunity? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Who Knew?

How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!