pu·​ni·​tive | \ ˈpyü-nə-tiv How to pronounce punitive (audio) \

Definition of punitive

: inflicting, involving, or aiming at punishment severe punitive measures

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Other Words from punitive

punitively adverb
punitiveness noun

Punitive and the Law

Punitive is an important word in the law. When you sue a person or company for having wronged you in some way, you normally ask for something of value equal to what you were deprived of by the other party. But when the defendant has done something particularly bad, you may also ask for punitive damages, money over and above the actual cost of the harm done, intended to teach the defendant a lesson. Punitive damages are fairly rare, but when they're actually granted they may be as much as four times the size of the basic damages.

Examples of punitive in a Sentence

The federal government will take punitive action against the company that polluted the river. Lobbyists complain that the bill would impose punitive taxes on the industry.

Recent Examples on the Web

The Trump administration’s demand that punitive tariffs remain to ensure Beijing enacts genuine overhauls has emerged as one of the biggest sticking points, as U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators opened new face-to-face talks aimed at a deal. Bob Davis, WSJ, "Tariffs Take Center Stage in U.S.-China Trade Talks," 3 Apr. 2019 The complaint names Officers Christopher Orr and David Grimm, as well as the department and seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. Fox News, "84-year-old woman sues Arizona police citing excessive force," 3 Aug. 2018 If approved by national leaders, Hungary is set to face punitive measures. Caleb Parke, Fox News, "EU punishes Hungary with unprecedented action," 12 Sep. 2018 But analysts have warned that the Trump administration's sanctions strategy has already begun to falter in the wake of the summit, as China and other countries begin to relax punitive measures. David Nakamura, chicagotribune.com, "Trump releases 'nice note' from Kim Jong Un praising progress despite setbacks in talks," 12 July 2018 Israel has impounded the money for periods in the past, as a punitive measure or to pressure the Palestinian leadership. Isabel Kershner, New York Times, "Israel Penalizes Palestinians for Payments to Prisoners and ‘Martyrs’," 3 July 2018 Among the unknowns is the public’s appetite for punitive measures, even in staunchly antiabortion states. Evan Halper, latimes.com, "If a reshaped Supreme Court tosses abortion decisions back to states, several would move fast to outlaw the procedures," 29 June 2018 The tariffs, which Trump wants set at a 10 percent rate, would be the latest round of punitive measures in an escalating dispute over the large trade imbalance between the two countries. Jeff Karoub And Zeke Miller, BostonGlobe.com, "In tit-for-tat, Trump threatens more tariffs against China," 19 June 2018 Jump, Lime and other companies offering the two-wheel transportation have begun experimenting with punitive fees to discourage unwanted behavior by users. Yuliya Chernova, WSJ, "Dockless Scooter Rides, No Longer Cheap and Easy, Increasingly End With Fines," 4 Feb. 2019

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

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First Known Use of punitive

1593, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for punitive

French punitif, from Medieval Latin punitivus, from Latin punitus, past participle of punire

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Statistics for punitive

Last Updated

10 Apr 2019

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Time Traveler for punitive

The first known use of punitive was in 1593

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English Language Learners Definition of punitive

: intended to punish someone or something
: extremely or unfairly severe or high


pu·​ni·​tive | \ ˈpyü-nə-tiv How to pronounce punitive (audio) \

Legal Definition of punitive

: inflicting, involving, or aiming at punishment

Other Words from punitive

punitively adverb
punitiveness noun

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on punitive

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with punitive

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for punitive

Spanish Central: Translation of punitive

Nglish: Translation of punitive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of punitive for Arabic Speakers

Comments on punitive

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


an act or instance of returning to life

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