What Does An Eye for an Eye Mean?

An Eye for an Eye Meaning

Definition: If someone wrongs or hurts another person, that person should be punished by having the same thing done to him or her.

The idiom an eye for an eye is used to express that the punishment for a criminal or wrongdoer should be the same as the crime or misdeed. For example, if Joel kills another man, the family of the victim might say, “He deserves the death penalty. An eye for an eye.”

This idiom is most commonly used to refer to getting revenge or justice for a crime or wrongdoing.

Origin of An Eye for an Eye

definition of an eye for an eyeThis idiom originated in the ancient Mesopotamian Empire during Hammurabi’s rule in the 18th century BC. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” was part of Hammurabi’s code. The full quotation from Hammurabi’s code reads,

  • If a man has destroyed the eye of a man of the gentleman class, they shall destroy his eye.

This concept is also found in the Bible, specifically Deuteronomy 19:21.

  • Life shall go for life, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth.

The shortened phrase, an eye for an eye, has the same meaning as the full phrase, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Examples of An Eye for an Eye

what is an eye for an eyeIn most modern contexts, this phrase refers to getting justice or revenge for a crime. However, not all situations refer to an illegal crime.

In some cases, this idiom can be used to refer to any misdeed. The example conversation between two young boys illustrates the correct use of this idiom.

Andy: Brannon hit me!

Devin: Hit him back. An eye for an eye.

More Examples

  • “He didn’t show no remorse, so why should we? An eye for an eye — you know?” – LA Times
  • “Some of our people are saying an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life,” Barron said. – NY Post


The English phrase an eye for an eye is used to refer to seeking justice or revenge for a crime or misdeed. This idiom suggests that the criminal should be punished with the same crime that he or she inflicted.