A deterrent makes you not want to do something. Let's say there's a giant pile of cookies being guarded by an angry dog — the dog is a deterrent.

People talk about deterrents most often when discussing crime. The death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent — the idea is that people will be so scared of the death penalty that they won't commit certain crimes. Jail is another deterrent. Teachers also use deterrents — the possibility of getting detention is a deterrent that should encourage students to behave. A deterrent is the opposite of a reward. A reward encourages you to do the right thing, while a deterrent discourages you from doing the wrong thing.

Definitions of deterrent

n something immaterial that interferes with or delays action or progress

balk, baulk, check, handicap, hinderance, hindrance, impediment
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albatross, millstone
(figurative) something that hinders or handicaps
something that hinders as if with bonds
diriment impediment
(canon law) an impediment that invalidates a marriage (such as the existence of a prior marriage)
something that slows or delays progress
obstacle, obstruction
something immaterial that stands in the way and must be circumvented or surmounted
anything immaterial that severely hinders or confines
barrier, roadblock
any condition that makes it difficult to make progress or to achieve an objective
hang-up, hitch, rub, snag
an unforeseen obstacle
an obstacle that you are expected to overcome
stymie, stymy
a thwarting and distressing situation
Type of:
a factor causing trouble in achieving a positive result or tending to produce a negative result

adj tending to deter

“the deterrent effects of high prices”
preventative, preventive
tending to prevent or hinder

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