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

Definition of punitive

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

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 Confronting and taking away privileges all sounds completely punitive, with no apparent connection to the behavior. Carolyn Hax, Washington Post, 12 Sep. 2022 The Hall of Fame quarterback believes pass-interference calls can be too punitive on a defense, particularly when a flag leads to an offense picking up a huge piece of real estate. Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times, 7 Sep. 2022 The broader focus of criminal justice was on the punitive, not the preventative. Francine Uenuma, Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Sep. 2022 The contract then was reworked to a two-year, $18.2 million deal, with an $8.7 million salary for the upcoming season, one that helped the Heat stay below the punitive luxury tax, and includes a player option in the second year. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 31 Aug. 2022 The program helps those who may have been involved with the court or punitive systems, Hines said, but is also open to serving any kind of in-need youth. Caroline Beck, The Indianapolis Star, 30 Aug. 2022 The firings led to accusations from critics of Hungary’s nationalist government, led by autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, of punitive political pressure reminiscent of Hungary’s communist past. Justin Spike, ajc, 27 Aug. 2022 In Georgia, 75% of proceeds from punitive damage verdicts go to the state. Robert Burnson, BostonGlobe.com, 20 Aug. 2022 This isn’t surprising, given conservative resistance to pretty much any policy response to crime that focuses on compassionate prevention rather than punitive reaction. Liza Featherstone, The New Republic, 15 Aug. 2022 See More

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.

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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Time Traveler for punitive

Time Traveler

The first known use of punitive was in 1593

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Dictionary Entries Near punitive



punitive damages

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Statistics for punitive

Last Updated

15 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Punitive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/punitive. Accessed 27 Sep. 2022.

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More Definitions for punitive


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

More from Merriam-Webster on punitive

Nglish: Translation of punitive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of punitive for Arabic Speakers


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