pu·​ni·​tive | \ ˈpyü-nə-tiv \

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 federal government, however, does not determine how districts recover debts from families, and some districts use punitive measures to settle students’ meal accounts. Nadra Nittle, Vox, "How states and crowdfunding are tackling the growing problem of student lunch debt," 27 Dec. 2018 If that claim has merit, the union could file a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB, which could take punitive measures against Mic, including forcing the media company back to the bargaining table with the union. Shirin Ghaffary, Recode, "As digital media companies brace for change, unions try to cushion the blow," 26 Dec. 2018 Relying on positive parenting instead of punitive measures, authoritative parents earn the respect of their children by modeling healthy relationships and problem-solving strategies. Marisa Lascala, Good Housekeeping, "What Is Authoritative Parenting? Experts Say It's the Best of All Worlds," 16 Nov. 2018 Even if the two sides manage to put punitive tariffs in abeyance, harder to resolve will be many of the Chinese trade practices the U.S. says are unfair, including the coercive transfer of technology. Trefor Moss, WSJ, "Boeing Flies Close to Trade Tussle With New Facility in China," 15 Dec. 2018 The brokers said more NITC ships could be used as other tanker operators stay clear of Iran, fearing punitive action by Washington. Costas Paris, WSJ, "Tanker Owners Cash In on Iran Sanctions and Trade Tensions," 12 Nov. 2018 Pence declined to discuss what punitive action the U.S. might take in response to the death of the Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi kingdom, who died Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Deb Riechmann, The Seattle Times, "VP Pence: Khashoggi’s death will not go without US response," 23 Oct. 2018 Luh is reportedly seeking $6 million dollars in damages — $1 million in compensatory, $5 million in punitive — in her lawsuit, according to the News Sentinel. Fox News, "Delta passenger sues airline, claims crew didn't detain passenger who sexually assaulted her on flight," 28 Sep. 2018 Still, over the past decade, policymakers have started to sour on punitive discipline. Katherine Reynolds Lewis, The Atlantic, "One Ohio School’s Quest to Rethink Bad Behavior," 8 May 2018

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

2 Jan 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 \

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).


to gather or build up little by little

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