ret·ri·bu·tion | \ˌre-trə-ˈbyü-shən \

Definition of retribution 

2 : the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment especially in the hereafter

3 : something given or exacted in recompense especially : punishment

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Did You Know?

With its prefix re-, meaning "back", retribution means literally "payback". And indeed we usually use it when talking about personal revenge, whether it's retribution for an insult in a high-school corridor or retribution for a guerrilla attack on a government building. But retribution isn't always so personal: God takes "divine retribution" on humans several times in the Old Testament, especially in the great Flood that wipes out almost the entire human race. And retribution for criminal acts, usually in the form of a prison sentence, is taken by the state, not the victims.

Examples of retribution in a Sentence

The elastic-faced Ruck is a real find: his Cameron is a guilt-ridden, father-dominated nerd almost paralyzed with fear of parental retribution. — David Ansen, Newsweek, 16 June 1986 The two purposes that sustain the death penalty … in the Court's view are general deterrence and retribution. — Thurgood Marshall, Gregg v. Georgia, 1976 " … As for Cordelia, she went insane with remorse and was shut up in a lunatic asylum. I thought that was a poetical retribution for her crime." — Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, 1908 The killer acted without fear of retribution. the neighborhood is being torn apart by an endless cycle of gang violence and retribution
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Recent Examples on the Web

But a justice system governed solely by victims’ wishes for vengeance and retribution is not just, or tenable. Yvonne Abraham,, "At Department of Correction, a death of compassion," 28 June 2018 In an interview, a former city employee who requested anonymity out of fear of political retribution said Paul Hastings lawyers appeared to be assessing the criminal exposure of high ranking city officials at the public’s expense. Stephen Deere, ajc, "Atlanta’s legal bills related to corruption probe top $7.5M, AJC finds," 28 June 2018 As retribution for being abandoned, Grant pushes GLOW to a terrible time slot, sentencing the show to a fate akin to cancellation., "GLOW's Creators On Writing Season 2's Explosive Sexual Harassment Storyline," 2 July 2018 A few days later, a pair of deputies allegedly planned an attack on Gonzalez as retribution by recruiting inmates, court documents said. Michael Katz, idahostatesman, "Man gets at least 30 years for sex crimes, deputy attack, attempted jail escape," 6 June 2018 As retribution, Amal is forced into indentured servitude behind the walls of the Khan estate. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, "Of Brave Children Everywhere," 4 May 2018 The White House is also hoping Trump's defenders will paint Rosenstein and Comey as close colleagues and argue that Rosenstein is approving an ever-expanding investigation against Trump and his associates as retribution. Pamela Brown, CNN, "White House is prepping an effort to undermine Rosenstein," 12 Apr. 2018 On the other hand, in contrast to gratitude, when the other side expresses anger, the study suggests that punishment and deception are used as retribution. Neil Senturia,, "Why showing gratitude during negotiations is not a weakness," 9 Apr. 2018 Two other regional opposition leaders have been imprisoned on charges seen as retribution for their lack of compliance. Nataliya Vasilyeva, The Christian Science Monitor, "Russian mayor urges boycott of upcoming presidential election," 16 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'retribution.' 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 retribution

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for retribution

Middle English retribucioun, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin retribution-, retributio, from Latin retribuere to pay back, from re- + tribuere to pay — more at tribute

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Phrases Related to retribution

divine retribution

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Last Updated

16 Oct 2018

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The first known use of retribution was in the 14th century

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English Language Learners Definition of retribution

: punishment for doing something wrong


ret·ri·bu·tion | \ˌre-trə-ˈbyü-shən \

Kids Definition of retribution


ret·ri·bu·tion | \ˌre-trə-ˈbyü-shən \

Legal Definition of retribution 

: punishment imposed (as on a convicted criminal) for purposes of repayment or revenge for the wrong committed

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a state of commotion or excitement

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