It is a common practice in Asian schools for teachers to give students a written assignment that would consist of re-writing several times some words or phrases that the student failed to spell correctly in an essay or in a spelling test. Usually, such assignment is purported to be of two purposes: one is to improve students' spelling, which is especially important in case of characters; and the other one, even if the students already know how to write those characters, is "building up their diligence", that is, students are asked to re-write the same characters again and again to train them to be "diligent, patient and submissive", an idea that may look ridiculous to a westerner.

What would be the right adjective for that kind of written assignment? Could I call it a punitive written assignment?

  • I don't think the title and text describe the same thing - This doesn't seem like a punishment to me, more that you're being given more practice as you seem to need it - I would call this learning by repetition. Punishment implies that you've done something morally wrong - talking in class / not doing any homework / etc
    – Smock
    May 2, 2019 at 16:26
  • @Smock - In Asia, if you have failed at the test that was based on the material previously presented and that you were supposed to have memorized at home, this would already be considered a kind of act of "moral wrong-doing", that is, you were not diligent enough. Hence, the punishment.
    – brilliant
    May 2, 2019 at 16:51
  • A writing assignment is something you do where you write an essay or short paper. As homework or classwork. This is not "a writing" assignment really. Because the students is not making it up from his/her own head. [Chinese character] phrase writing punishment. :)
    – Lambie
    May 2, 2019 at 17:04
  • @Lambie - So, as far as the difference between "writing assignment" and "written assignment", both terms are synonymous and, thus, there is no difference in meaning at all, right?
    – brilliant
    May 2, 2019 at 17:08
  • Not the same exactly, no: written assignment versus oral assignment, and writing assignment versus reading assignment. But this is not an assignment. It is a punishment consisting of writing out phrases. :)
    – Lambie
    May 2, 2019 at 17:12

3 Answers 3


This question is specific to languages with characters, i.e. Chinese characters.

Since Chinese characters can only be learned by memorization, I imagine they write them down by copying them from a source: A teacher writing on a blackboard or from a book.

That said, since Western languages do not have characters, we first have to think about how to say practicing characters through writing them. Then, comes the punishment part.

I would say: the teacher gave us: phrases to copy as punishment

  • phrase writing punishment

That pre-supposes one knows that the texts are in Chinese and, therefore, that they contain characters, and not letters.

I would not use the word punitive, as that is not an educational term really. The terms are to punish a student, punishment of a student.

In any event, this would not be called an assignment, really. Assignments are for homework or classwork. This is called punishment.


In British English, you can say "The teacher gave us lines", where the children have to write the same thing out again and again, typically 100 times. Usually the sentences have the form "I must not do X", which is a punishment for having done X.

You can see Bart doing this on the blackboard in the opening sequence of The Simpsons, but I don't believe it's called that in US English. In many British films of the 1950s you'll see children doing this, but on paper to hand to the teacher once done.

Directly answering: if the teacher demanded an essay, you can't call it lines. I'd expect you to say "The teacher gave us an essay as punishment", or a punishment essay. While "punitive" is a perfectly correct word, it's not often used.

If the punishment was specifically about perfecting the shapes of the letters, (or characters if Chinese, Korean etc), you might say "The teacher gave us calligraphy as punishment".

  • 1
    "Gave us lines" or "Had us write lines" is also appropriate in American English. I believe the author is asking for a specific adjective to describe the assignment of "writing lines", though. May 2, 2019 at 14:19
  • Thank you for your answer, especially for the information on writing lines. "Directly answering: I'd expect "The teacher gave us an essay as punishment", or a punishment essay" - But... is an essay not a piece of "structured prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" (definition given by Wikipedia)? If yes, then why do you call merely a line re-written 100 times an essay?!
    – brilliant
    May 2, 2019 at 14:29
  • Sorry if I was unclear: The typical punishment is writing lines: just repeating. If the teacher said you have to write an essay instead of giving you lines, you would have to say "a punishment essay", it would be incorrect to say "gave us lines".
    – jonathanjo
    May 2, 2019 at 14:31
  • I see. So what about the case with lines (not an essay)? Can I say "Our teacher gave us punishment lines"?
    – brilliant
    May 2, 2019 at 14:32
  • Lines are always punishment, so "punishment lines" is strange. But "gave us lines as punishment" is fine, matches "gave us a detention as punishment".
    – jonathanjo
    May 2, 2019 at 14:38

In some schools in Britain, it would be referred to as an Imposition.

St Benedict's Discipline Policy - St Benedict's School www.stbenedicts.org.uk/MainFolder/Parents/.../sbws_discipline_policy_april_2017.pdf

Behaviour and Discipline in Schools – A guide for head teachers and school staff ... Senior school students can receive an Imposition paper for repeated poor ...

The Complete Stalky & Co : Rudyard Kipling (Explanatory notes) https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jUJ4PZInW8gC&lpg=PA301&ots=6u_PLKPkRC&dq=school%20%22imposition%20paper%22&pg=PA301#v=onepage&q=school%20%22imposition%20paper%22&f=false

imposition-paper. paper used for impositions, written tasks imposed as punishments, generally lines by the hundred, often Latin, colloqially called "impots"

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