To chasten, chastise, or castigate?

On Sunday, as part of our Indianapolis 500 coverage, we ran a story about driver Danica Patrick, who'd blown up at her crew earlier in the week. It contained this sentence:

Afterward she made sure to heap credit on the same crew members she very publicly chastened during Pole Day.

If I'd written that sentence, I probably would have used chastise, not chasten. Not because it is wrong, but because I am more familiar with chastise. That got me wondering what the difference was. Not a whole lot, actually. Here are the American Heritage Dictionary definitions:


  • 1. To correct by punishment or reproof; take to task.
  • 2. To restrain; subdue.
  • 3. To rid of excess; refine or purify.


  • 1. To punish, as by beating.
  • 2. To criticize severely; rebuke.
  • 3. Archaic. To purify.

The only difference I see is that chasten seems to lean a bit more toward punishment for the sake of correction rather than for its own sake.

Chastise actually comes from chasten, according to its etymology: "From the Middle English chastisen, alteration of chasten, chastien." Chasten comes from "alteration of obsolete chaste, from the Middle English chasten, chastien, from the Old French chastiier, from the Latin castigāre, castīgāt-, from castus, meaning pure."

They are related to castigate, a synonym:

  • 1. To inflict severe punishment on.
  • 2. To criticize severely.

The obsolete verb chaste, referred to in the etymology above, is another synonym, according to the OED. Its obsolete and archaic definitions:

  • 1a. To correct (authoritatively) the faults of; to amend, reform, improve (a person or thing).
  • 1b. To discipline, train, break in (e.g. a horse or dog).
  • 2a. To reprove, rebuke, censure.
  • 2b. To accuse, charge.
  • 3. To inflict punishment or suffering upon, with a view to amendment; also simply, to punish, to inflict punishment (especially corporal punishment) on.
  • 4. To free from faults, purify, refine; to correct, revise (a literary work).
  • 5. To restrain from passion or excess; to moderate, temper, subdue.

The OED says chaste also has its origins in castigāre.