Punitive describes inflicting a punishment. If someone takes punitive action against you, you'll probably whine and complain — you're in trouble and you're about to get punished.

An easy way to remember the meaning of punitive is that it looks like the word punish — both come from the Latin root word punire, "to inflict a penalty on." Punitive doesn't always refer to a person-to-person punishment, like a mom disciplining a child. It can also describe the unpleasant result of an action on a large scale, like the punitive effect higher taxes will have on the middle class.

Definitions of punitive
  1. adjective
    inflicting punishment
    punitive justice”
    punitive damages”
    synonyms: punitory
    concerned with or providing correction
    serving as or designed to impose punishment
    used for punishment or reform of criminals or wrongdoers
    relatiative, retaliatory, retributive, retributory, vindicatory
    of or relating to or having the nature of retribution
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    designed to accomplish rehabilitation
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