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From Middle English punischen, from Anglo-Norman, Old French puniss-, stem of some of the conjugated forms of punir, from Latin puniō, punīre (to inflict punishment upon), from poena (punishment, penalty); see pain.


  • IPA(key): /ˈpʌnɪʃ/
  • Hyphenation: pun‧ish
  • (file)


punish (third-person singular simple present punishes, present participle punishing, simple past and past participle punished)

  1. (transitive) To cause to suffer for crime or misconduct, to administer disciplinary action.
    • 1818, William Cobbett, The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, page 255
      It was not from the want of proper laws that dangerous principles had been disseminated, and had assumed a threatening aspect, but because those laws had not been employed by the executive power to remedy the evil, and to punish the offenders.
    • 2007, Matthew Weait, Intimacy and Responsibility: The Criminalisation of HIV Transmission, Routledge (ISBN 9781135308162), page 80
      The law needs to punish this behaviour as a deterrent to others.
    • 2017, Joyce Carol Oates, Double Delight, Open Road Media (ISBN 9781504045155)
      His mother had punished him when he'd deserved it. She'd loved him, he was “all she had,” but she'd punished him, too.
    Synonyms: castigate
  2. (transitive, figuratively) To treat harshly and unfairly.
    • 1994, Valerie Polakow, Lives on the Edge: Single Mothers and Their Children in the Other America, University of Chicago Press (ISBN 9780226219646), page 68
      But each effort that Anna makes —and she has attempted many— meets with obstacles from a welfare bureaucracy that punishes single mothers for initiative and partial economic self-sufficiency.
    • 2008, Seth Benardete, The Bow and the Lyre: A Platonic Reading of the Odyssey, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (ISBN 9780742565975), page 5
      Homer, moreover, gives the impression that the Sun punished Odysseus's men; but we are later told that the Sun cannot punish individual men []
    • 2009, Gordon Wright, Learning to Ride, Hunt, and Show, Skyhorse Publishing Inc. (ISBN 9781602397262), page 44
      The rider who comes back on his horse in mid-air over a fence is punishing his horse severely.
    Synonyms: mistreat

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