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 owners walked away with a punitive luxury tax that amounts to a soft salary cap, and a hard cap on signings of international amateurs. Stephanie Apstein, SI.com, "Even Baseball's Best Players Are Hopelessly Overmatched in CBA Negotiations," 10 July 2019 But Trump has sharpened and hypercharged punitive immigration policies. Anthony W. Fontes, The Conversation, "The long, bipartisan history of dealing with immigrants harshly," 9 July 2019 Phantom Fireworks, a pyrotechnic giant with fireworks stores all over the country, went as far as to file suit against the state of Pennsylvania, claiming those punitive rates were a violation of the tax code. Luke Winkie, Vox, "Anime brings in more than $19 billion a year. Its artists are earning barely enough to survive.," 2 July 2019 Above the level of punitive strikes and regional repercussions there is little room for anything but a campaign to destroy Iranian nuclear sites or overthrow the regime. The Economist, "Breaking the nuclear deal ratchets up the conflict between Iran and America," 28 June 2019 Yet as obesity rates continue to climb, there should be more to consider when addressing this issue than a punitive tax on a small segment of our diet. BostonGlobe.com, "Should Massachusetts impose an excise tax on sugary drinks?," 28 June 2019 One report suggested that the United States is mulling further punitive moves against India, including action under Section 301 of the Trade Act — the same mechanism Trump used to levy tariffs on Chinese products. Joanna Slater, Washington Post, "Trump doubles down on trade war with India," 27 June 2019 Washington’s campaign in recent years included slapping punitive duties, in addition to the broad tariffs, on Chinese-origin goods from steel to furniture that the U.S. Commerce Department deemed to have been transshipped. Chuin-wei Yap, WSJ, "American Tariffs on China Are Being Blunted by Trade Cheats," 26 June 2019 But President Donald Trump has threatened Beijing with new tariffs on about $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, an act that would escalate tensions while levying a punitive tax on Apple’s most profitable product. Debby Wu, Fortune, "Apple Is Reportedly Asking Suppliers to Shift at Least 15% of Output from China," 19 June 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

17 Jul 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

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