Immunity vs. impunity

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Impunity is the ability to act without negative consequences. The word differs from the broader immunity, which refers to (1) the ability to resist a disease, (2) exemption from obligation imposed by others, (3) legally granted freedom from prosecution, and (4) unresponsiveness to influence.

Impunity is a type of immunity, and the two words come especially close together where immunity refers to freedom from prosecution, but immunity in this sense is generally a legal term and doesn’t appear often in other contexts. Where someone is able to act with minimal risk of negative consequences, legal or otherwise, impunity is the better word.



The only way to treat it is to suppress a patient’s immunity, calming reactions but leaving sufferers vulnerable to any infection. [Mirror]

None of these matters have yet hit home with the voters, giving him some immunity in his conduct of foreign affairs. []

In exchange, Saleh and his family would receive immunity from prosecution. [Denver Post]


And the silence that surrounds violent extremist attacks, the tacit approval for fear of being next, emboldens the killers to kill again with impunity. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Chu said organized criminals can launder money with impunity in casinos because police departments don’t have the resources to treat that crime as a priority. [The Province]

Before 2003, diplomats enjoyed just this type of impunity when parking on city streets. [Wall Street Journal]