Putative vs punitive

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Putative and punitive are two words that are so close in pronunciation and spelling they are often confused, however they have very different meanings. We will examine the definitions of putative and punitive, where these two words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Putative is a word that means generally considered as such, generally accepted as such, commonly regarded to be, reputed to be. Putative is an adjective that is always placed in front of the noun that it is modifying. The word putative is derived from the Latin word putatare which means to believe, to suspect or to suppose. Putative is a rather formal word, and is often used in legal documents.

Punitive is a word that describes something intended to be a punishment, something that is imposed as a penalty or as retribution for wrong action. Punitive is also an adjective, and is derived from the Latin word punire, which means to chastise or punish.


Having seen putative Christians excuse the liar, rationalize the alleged pedophile, justify the sexual assaulter and cheer as walls are raised against the most vulnerable, it’s obvious that many of those who claim that name embody a niggardly, cowardly, selfish and situational “faith” that has little to do with Jesus. (The Evansville Courier & Press)

Nigeria, a putative democracy, with a written constitution, is, or should be, a country governed by the rule of law and the due process of the law. (The Guardian)

“These slaves said Mack was incredibly intimidating, cruel and punitive,” a source close to two former DOS members told The Hollywood Reporter in a cover story published last Wednesday. (People Magazine)

Britt’s decision to impose a cap on punitive damages came after a jury handed down a landmark verdict to the ten plaintiffs suing Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. (The Independent Weekly)