ret·​ri·​bu·​tion | \ ˌre-trə-ˈbyü-shən How to pronounce retribution (audio) \

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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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
Recent Examples on the Web In rejecting the enhancement, Friedrich sided with Reffitt’s defense counsel, who accused prosecutors of utilizing the tool as retribution for Reffitt taking the case to trial. Lucien Bruggeman, ABC News, 2 Aug. 2022 Democrats say Republicans are holding up a floor vote as political retribution for reaching a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on a $370 billion tax and climate package. Riley Rogerson, Anchorage Daily News, 30 July 2022 But once news of Schumer and Manchin's deal broke, GOP leadership attempted a last-minute push to block the semiconductor bill, urging members to vote no as retribution, the Post reports. Brigid Kennedy, The Week, 28 July 2022 In his notice of appeal this week, Riley argued that the Excessive Fines Clause protects citizens like him from abusive government fines and penalties that are used as retribution and as a debilitating financial punishment. John H. Tucker, cleveland, 14 July 2022 The family members of the victims filed a lawsuit accusing the Juarez cartel of carrying out the November 2019 attack in Mexico as retribution for their public criticism and protests against the cartel. CBS News, 12 July 2022 Trump urged Perdue to enter the race as retribution for Kemp not going along with Trump’s effort to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in Georgia in 2020. Jeff Amy,, 23 May 2022 Most of the country’s political and religious leaders, as well as a sizable segment of society, regard capital punishment as just retribution for major crimes. Los Angeles Times, 19 May 2022 An accompanying message threatened Russians such as Muratov with retribution for supporting Ukraine. Washington Post, 28 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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

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Last Updated

7 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Retribution.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for retribution


ret·​ri·​bu·​tion | \ ˌre-trə-ˈbyü-shən How to pronounce retribution (audio) \

Kids Definition of retribution


ret·​ri·​bu·​tion | \ ˌre-trə-ˈbyü-shən How to pronounce retribution (audio) \

Legal Definition of retribution

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

More from Merriam-Webster on retribution

Nglish: Translation of retribution for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of retribution for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about retribution


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