punitive

adjective

pu·​ni·​tive ˈpyü-nə-tiv How to pronounce punitive (audio)
: inflicting, involving, or aiming at punishment
severe punitive measures
punitively adverb
punitiveness noun

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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 league’s new collective bargaining agreement is exceptionally punitive (to the point of being vindictive) to teams who remain in the luxury tax. Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News, 25 Mar. 2024 The result is a paradox of punitive populism, in which democratically elected leaders with broad anticrime mandates undermine liberal democracy by adopting iron-fist policies that are not only popular but can also be effective. Gustavo Flores-Macías, Foreign Affairs, 20 Mar. 2024 The suit seeks punitive, compensatory and general damages for negligence, product construction and manufacturing defect liability and failure to protect passengers from harm. Marlene Lenthang, NBC News, 15 Mar. 2024 Homendy wrote that the agency is not looking to speak with employees for punitive purposes. Gregory Wallace, CNN, 13 Mar. 2024 But Republicans are hopeful this version of the bill will be looked upon more favorably after amending the legislation to reduce its punitive nature. Jenna Barackman, Kansas City Star, 22 Mar. 2024 For all that Israel appears to be waging a punitive campaign against the people of Gaza, this campaign looks likely to end up punishing Israel as well. Andrew Exum, The Atlantic, 18 Mar. 2024 So, too, have Britain’s scandal-mongering tabloids, likely out of concern over U.K.’s more punitive libel laws. Martha Ross, The Mercury News, 13 Mar. 2024 There would’ve been some punitive action against Stepakoff, but his crime was neither violent nor costly (restitution was $500) and his sentence wasn’t prison, but a year on probation. David J. Neal, Miami Herald, 8 Mar. 2024

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

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

1593, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of punitive was in 1593

Dictionary Entries Near punitive

Cite this Entry

“Punitive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/punitive. Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

punitive

adjective
pu·​ni·​tive ˈpyü-nət-iv How to pronounce punitive (audio)
1
: of or relating to punishment or penalties
punitive law
2
: intended to inflict punishment
a punitive expedition against outlaws
punitively adverb

Legal Definition

punitive

adjective
pu·​ni·​tive ˈpyü-nə-tiv How to pronounce punitive (audio)
: inflicting, involving, or aiming at punishment
punitively adverb
punitiveness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on punitive

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