Legal Dictionary


Definition of punishment



punishment (plural punishments)

  1. The act or process of punishing, imposing and/or applying a sanction.
  2. A penalty to punish wrongdoing, especially for crime.
  3. A suffering by pain or loss imposed as retribution
  4. (figuratively) Any treatment or experience so harsh it feels like being punished

    The drunk champions team got a terrible punishment: a 0-10 loss, as shamefull as the bare-butt paddling they got afterward


  • castigation
  • punition
  • beating

Derived terms

Related terms

  • punishable
  • punisher
  • punishing
  • punitive
  • impunity

Further reading

Punishment is the practice of imposing something unpleasant or aversive on a person or animal or property, usually in response to disobedience, defiance, or behavior deemed morally wrong by individual, governmental, or religious principles.


In philosophy

In common usage, the word "punishment" might be described as "an authorized imposition of deprivations - of freedom or privacy or other goods to which the person otherwise has a right, or the imposition of special burdens - because the person has been found guilty of some criminal violation, typically (though not invariably) involving harm to the innocent." (according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Augustine confessions, every inordinate act carries its own punishment.

In law

The most common applications are in legal and similarly 'regulated' contexts, being the infliction of some kind of pain or loss upon a person for a misdeed, i.e. for transgressing a law or command (including prohibitions) given by some authority (such as an educator, employer or supervisor, public or private official).

In psychology

Introduced by B.F. Skinner, punishment has a more restrictive and technical definition. Along with reinforcement it belongs under the Operant Conditioning category. Operant Conditioning refers to learning with either punishment or reinforcement. It is also referred to as response-stimulus conditioning. In psychology, punishment is the reduction of a behavior via a stimulus which is applied ("positive punishment") or removed ("negative punishment"). Making an offending student lose recess or play privileges are examples of negative punishment, while extra chores or spanking are examples of positive punishment. The definition requires that punishment is only determined after the fact by the reduction in behavior; if the offending behavior of the subject does not decrease then it is not considered punishment. There is some conflation of punishment and aversives, though an aversive that does not increase behavior is not considered punishment.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     lex fori
2.     landed property
3.     salacious
4.     lex situs
5.     lex causae
6.     violent crime
7.     conscionable
8.     family court
9.     leasing
10.     public liability