The Meaning of Retribution: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of retribution? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word retribution, including its definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What does the word retribution mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language and Dictionary, the word retribution is a noun (pronunciation of retribution: ​ˌrɛtrɪˈbjuːʃən) that means some recompense or reward in exchange for an evildoing or good deed. This can be used to refer to some personal payback or reward, or to refer to the traditional criminal justice approach of retribution. In designing justice, people often think that others should pay for their crimes. This word can be used in many different contexts, from referring to a due reward, a law of retribution, or some other form of ethical justice.  Try using this word of the day in a sentence today, it might become your favorite word!

Many different languages also contain words that mean retribution. You may notice that some of these words look similar to one another. These are called cognates, which are words and phrases that look and sound the same, and also have a similar meaning between languages. These are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin like Latin or Greek. This list of translations for the word retribution is provided by Word Sense

  •  Dutch: vergelding‎
  •  Mandarin: 報應‎, 报应‎ (bàoyìng), 惡報‎, 恶报‎ (èbào)
  •  Russian: возме́здие‎ (neut.), воздая́ние‎ (neut.)
  •  Tagalog: gantindusa‎
  •  German: Vergeltung‎ (fem.)
  •  Romanian: răzbunare‎
  •  Maori: ngakinga‎
  •  Macedonian: одмазда‎, возврат‎
  •  Japanese: 報復‎ (ほうふく, hōfuku)
  •  Finnish: rangaistus‎
  •  French: vendetta‎, châtiment‎ (masc.), punition‎ (fem.)
  •  Malay: balasan‎
  •  Spanish: castigo‎ (masc.), retribución‎ (fem.)
  •  Portuguese: retribuição‎ (fem.)
  •  Irish: agairt‎ (fem.)
  •  Swedish: vedergällning‎ (common)
  •  Georgian: სამაგიერო‎, სანაცვლო‎

How can the word retribution be used in a sentence?

The word retribution can be used in many different ways. Examples of retribution are in the following dialogs:

The fear of retribution caused the man to consider his future life of crime; in all seriousness, he was terrified of potential criminal prosecution, future probation and general judgment and longed for a life of gradual development rather than the continuance of the present.

The fundamentalist clergy were taught in the sermon that they would receive retribution for sin and sainthood, whether in the form of the distribution of rewards or being cast into hell. The Christian hope led them to believe in fate rather than doom, and they used this as a means of discipline.

The fugitive in Georgia was scared of personal vengeance or violent retribution from the nemesis seeking mere revenge. He escaped the mob of offenders in Richmond, but was scared they would find him on the back roads or the river paths. 

The particular emotional tone of past pain that the pro-union worker conveyed in his speech changed the conservative websites from seeking retribution for the extremist and jumping down his throat to agreeing with the effectiveness of this alternative approach for payment of the workers presented by the hurt man.

The users of the social media apps had no fear of retribution due to the condition of anonymity for their present use; they did not reveal any personal tie to the site, and were not concerned with the amount of the punishment or suffering they might receive if they were found out. 

The convicted criminal was tasked with retributive justice for the purposes of repayment of his crime by local law. They did not believe in rehabilitation of the prisoner and held a grudge; they believed the purpose of a term of imprisonment was ethical retribution.  

The devout woman in Paris believed in the swiftness of divine retribution and the requital of evil; she knew her patience and notions of forgiveness would pay off in her next life. 

What is the origin of the word retribution?

According to Etymonline, the word retribution has been used since the late 14th century to mean repayment. This word comes directly from the Old French retribution and from the Latin retributionem of the nominative retributio or Late Latin ​​​retribūtiō meaning recompense or repayment. This is a noun of action taken from the past participle stem of the Latin ​​​retribuere or Latin retribūtus, a verb meaning to repay, from the prefix re meaning back and tribuere meaning to assign or allot. The term originally means something that was given in return for past good or evil, but has since come to mean evil given for evil done since the 1650s. This comes from the phase day of retribution, a 1520s phrase in Christian theology referring to the time of divine reward or punishment. This source is also where we get the related words tribute and tribes. 

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word retribution?

There are many different synonyms for the word retribution. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. These are very useful to know if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself as well as if you are looking to expand your vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word retribution is provided by Thesaurus.

  •  ill will
  •  compensation
  •  requital
  •  summation
  •  spitefulness
  •  fight
  •  invoice
  •  grunt
  •  debt
  •  counterinsurgency
  •  IOU
  •  regard
  •  purgatory
  •  amends
  •  reparation
  •  atonement
  •  restitution
  •  retaliation
  •  attack
  •  satisfaction
  •  measure for measure
  •  estimate
  •  reprisal
  •  ciphering
  •  tab
  •  animus
  •  vengeance
  •  estimation
  •  counterblow
  •  score
  •  rancor
  •  redress
  •  adding
  •  avengement
  •  revanche
  •  bad news
  •  metirs
  •  what for
  •  avengment
  •  getting even
  •  just desserts
  •  sortie
  •  addition
  •  fee
  •  avenging
  •  due
  •  cost
  •  justice
  •  vindictiveness
  •  settlement
  •  malevolence
  •  reckoning
  •  count
  •  eye for an eye
  •  repayment
  •  comeuppance
  •  arithmetic
  •  implacability
  •  counting
  •  statement
  •  reward
  •  figuring
  •  charge
  •  ruthlessness
  •  bill
  •  counterplay
  •  punishment
  •  revenge
  •  calculation
  •  return
  •  check
  •  recompense
  •  tit for tat
  •  working
  •  vengefulness

There are also numerous different words that contain the opposite meaning as the word retribution. These opposite words are called antonyms. Antonyms are another quick and easy way to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word retribution is also provided by Thesaurus

  •  sufferance
  •  forbearance
  •  tolerance
  •  quarter
  •  kindness
  •  caritas
  •  gentleness
  •  lenity
  •  discharge
  •  indemnification
  •  amnesty
  •  exculpation
  •  charity
  •  excuse
  •  acquittal
  •  respite
  •  impunity
  •  justification
  •  lenience
  •  equitableness
  •  leniency
  •  allowance
  •  dispensation
  •  condonation
  •  clemency
  •  indulgence
  •  indemnity
  •  overlooking
  •  grace
  •  mercifulness
  •  toleration
  •  immunity
  •  humanity
  •  tenderness
  •  forgiveness
  •  lifeboat
  •  mercy
  •  quittance
  •  remittal
  •  moderation
  •  purgation
  •  reprieve
  •  justness
  •  remission
  •  commute
  •  compassion
  •  absolution
  •  exoneration
  •  extenuation
  •  endurance
  •  pardon
  •  palliation
  •  conciliation
  •  release
  •  soft-heartedness
  •  vindication
  •  mildness
  •  freeing
  •  fairness
  •  lifesaver
  •  anchor

Overall, the word retribution means some payback in recompense for wrongdoing. This can also be used to refer to a reward in recompense for good. This word comes from the Middle English retribucion, from the past participle of retribuere, a Latin word from the Church Latin retrib​ūtiō. The verb retribuere meant to pay back. 


  1. retribution: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. retribution | Origin and meaning of retribution | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  3. RETRIBUTION Synonyms: 25 Synonyms & Antonyms for RETRIBUTION | Thesaurus 
  4. FORGIVENESS Synonyms: 38 Synonyms & Antonyms for FORGIVENESS | Thesaurus 
  5. Retribution | Definition of Retribution | Merriam-Webster 
  6. Retribution | Definition of Retribution |