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

Definition of punitive

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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Amid calls for sanctions or other punitive steps against China, Price suggested on Monday that the US would prefer any future actions against China to be coordinated with allies as well. Natasha Bertrand, Kevin Liptak And Brian Fung, CNN, 19 July 2021 An anticapitalist would next restrict capital formation, so President Biden has proposed raising the top capital-gains rate from 23.8% to a punitive 43.4% and the top individual income-tax rate to 39.6%. Andy Kessler, WSJ, 18 July 2021 Courts weigh punitive-damage awards based on a relationship to compensatory damages, which are generally related to compensating people for economic losses or injuries. News Service Of Florida, orlandosentinel.com, 8 July 2021 Its tentacles have spread, with drug testing and other rules and regulations that prohibit recreational drug use and unnecessary punitive reactions. Essence, 7 July 2021 However, experts cautioned these restrictions don’t necessarily mean a complete end to isolation as a punitive tool. BostonGlobe.com, 6 July 2021 This leads to resource conservation and lower costs, on the one hand, with regulatory compliance on the other, lowering the risks of adverse, punitive regulatory outcomes and the associated reputational damage. Sumit Virmani, Forbes, 6 July 2021 Wix did not respond to Fortune’s request to confirm the threat or if Hong Kong followed through with any punitive measures. Eamon Barrett, Fortune, 30 June 2021 That’s not the only measure moving through Congress that seeks to address the issue of violence without punitive measures. Donna Owens, Essence, 30 June 2021

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About punitive

Time Traveler for punitive

Time Traveler

The first known use of punitive was in 1593

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near punitive



punitive damages

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for punitive

Last Updated

29 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Punitive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/punitive. Accessed 4 Aug. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for punitive



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

More from Merriam-Webster on punitive

Nglish: Translation of punitive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of punitive for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!