Deterrence refers to the act of discouraging or preventing something from happening by creating fear of the consequences. It is often used in the context of preventing crime or war through the threat of punishment or retaliation.


US English

UK English

Part of Speech



Dissuasion, discouragement, prevention, inhibition


Encouragement, incentive, provocation

Word Forms

Part of Speech Words
Noun deterrence, deterrents, determents, deterrent, deterrences, determent
Verb deterring, deters, deterred, deter
Adjective deterrent
Adverb None

Example Sentences

  • The high visibility of police officers in the area served as a deterrence to potential criminals.

  • The country’s possession of nuclear weapons is seen as a deterrent to other nations considering attacking it.

  • The strict penalties for speeding are intended as a deterrence to reckless driving.

  • The company’s strict anti-harassment policies serve as a deterrence to inappropriate behavior in the workplace.


The term “deterrence” is most commonly used in the context of preventing unwanted behaviors or actions by creating fear of the consequences. This can include preventing crime or war, as well as preventing individual behaviors such as reckless driving or workplace harassment.

The term “deterrence” is derived from the Latin word “deterrentia,” which means “hindrance or obstacle.” The prefix “de-” means “away from” or “off,” and the suffix “-ance” is used to form nouns from verbs, indicating the action or state of the verb. Therefore, “deterrence” literally means “the act of keeping something away or preventing it from happening.”

In the context of crime prevention, deterrence theory suggests that the threat of punishment can deter individuals from committing crimes. This can include both specific deterrence (discouraging an individual from committing a specific crime) and general deterrence (discouraging others from committing similar crimes through the fear of punishment).

In the context of war, deterrence theory suggests that the threat of retaliation or mutual destruction can deter nations from attacking each other. This is often referred to as “nuclear deterrence,” as many nations possess nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence against other nations.

Overall, the term “deterrence” is a powerful concept that is widely used in a variety of contexts. Its connotations of strength and power make it an effective tool for preventing unwanted behaviors and actions. However, it is important to use the term carefully and to be aware of its potential negative consequences, such as the risk of escalation or the unintended consequences of punishment.