Definition of punish in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈpəniSH/


[with object]
1Inflict a penalty or sanction on (someone) as retribution for an offense, especially a transgression of a legal or moral code: I have done wrong and I’m being punished for it
More example sentences
  • This contravenes the movies' typical treatment of cads, who are usually punished for their moral transgressions or transformed into dullards by the power of love.
  • Noir was the perfect response to the censors - the Code demanded that people be punished for their sins, and in film noir everyone pays.
  • A minute later the visitors were punished for their miss when Lennon took a pass on the turn and rifled the ball into the right-hand corner to give Monksland the lead.
informal wallop, come down on (like a ton of bricks)
1.1Inflict a penalty or sanction on someone for (such an offense): fraudulent acts would be punished by up to two years in prison
More example sentences
  • The official failure to condemn or punish rape gives it an overt political sanction, which allows rape and other forms of torture and ill-treatment to become tools of military strategy.
  • Then when Jed were penalised for a stamping offence, Stenhouse punished the misdemeanour with well-struck kick to put the Greens eight points ahead.
  • He is talking, believe it or not, about an overdue, ponderous but worthy apparatus for punishing war crimes.
1.2Treat (someone) in an unfairly harsh way: a rise in prescription charges would punish the poor
More example sentences
  • By going to this extreme you are unfairly punishing the individual in the pursuit of spiteful gossip.
  • Patti Fritz argues that such a fee unfairly punishes elderly residents who put away savings for their retirement years.
  • Dr Fundanga said all that was needed was a comprehensive framework for enforcement rather than on an ad hoc basis because this would end up punishing some members unfairly.
penalize, unfairly disadvantage, handicap, hurt, wrong, ill-use, maltreat
1.3Subject (someone or something) to severe and debilitating treatment.
Example sentences
  • It was hard to imagine how that merry prankster and mistress of worthy causes could be subject to such punishing mood swings.
  • His length had improved and he was much more severe in punishing any loose shots played by Darwish.
  • Seems perfectly reasonable to me that the Doctor's control of the energy would be more punishing and exhausting - even damaging - than Rose's.



Example sentences
  • Apparently, if you have been clicked at less than 15 kph over the limit and have not had a speed ticket or accident in the previous three years you can write to the speed camera punishers and plead for a caution instead of a fine.
  • Manning used to say that Australian public life broke into two groups: the enlargers, and the punishers and straighteners.
  • Cruel physical punishments degrade the punishers as well as the punished.


Middle English: from Old French puniss-, lengthened stem of punir 'punish', from Latin punire, from poena 'penalty'.

  • pain from Middle English:

    This goes back to Latin poena which originally meant ‘penalty’ and later came to mean ‘pain’, and is also the source of to pine (Old English) ‘to long for', but originally meaning ‘to suffer’; penal; and penalty [both LME]. Punish (Middle English) comes from the related verb punire. Pain in the neck dates from the 1920s; from this, a pain for an annoying person developed in the 1930s. Although the phrase no pain, no gain is associated with exercise classes from the 1980s, the two words have been associated since the 16th century and ‘No Pains, No Gains’ is the title of a 1648 poem by Robert Herrick.

Words that rhyme with punish

Hunnish, nunnish

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: pun·ish

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