in·​car·​cer·​ate | \ in-ˈkär-sə-ˌrāt How to pronounce incarcerate (audio) \
incarcerated; incarcerating

Definition of incarcerate

transitive verb

1 : to put in prison
2 : to subject to confinement

Synonyms & Antonyms for incarcerate



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A criminal sentenced to incarceration may wish their debt to society could be canceled; such a wistful felon might be surprised to learn that incarcerate and cancel are related. Incarcerate comes from incarcerare, a Latin verb meaning "to imprison." That Latin root comes from carcer, meaning "prison." Etymologists think that cancel probably got its start when the spelling of carcer was modified to cancer, which means "lattice" in Latin—an early meaning of cancel in English was "to mark (a passage) for deletion with lines crossed like a lattice." Aside from its literal meaning, incarcerate has a figurative application meaning "to subject to confinement," as in "people incarcerated in their obsessions."

Examples of incarcerate in a Sentence

the state incarcerated over 1900 people last year
Recent Examples on the Web But of course, the best way to stop overcrowding in prisons and jails is to simply incarcerate fewer people—with more diversionary programs, drug treatment and mental health services. Morgan Simon, Forbes, 19 Jan. 2022 The judge's decision to incarcerate Armbruster for 24 months was between the government request of 144 months and his defense's request for home confinement. Sarah Hauer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1 Dec. 2021 But David Sielaff, an attorney with the office, had asked the court to lift the stay and incarcerate Brooks at the hearing, court records show. Stephanie Pagones, Fox News, 1 Dec. 2021 In wrongful-conviction cases, there are often secondary victims: individuals who, having helped incarcerate an innocent person, must confront their own culpability once that person is freed. Jennifer Gonnerman, The New Yorker, 25 Oct. 2021 At sentencing the following month, Jennifer and Tracy urged Waukesha Judge Michael P. Maxwell to incarcerate Ryan for the maximum time possible. Megan O’matz, ProPublica, 16 Sep. 2021 Southern states incarcerate all racial groups at such high rates that the ratio for Black incarceration compared with other racial groups is actually lower than in some other regions. Patrik Jonsson, The Christian Science Monitor, 28 June 2021 And since Wisconsin and the U.S. disproportionately incarcerate people of color — with the disparity most pronounced among African Americans — the long-lasting stigma of having a criminal record disproportionately burdens them as well. Sonya Chechik And Kirien Sprecher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4 June 2021 Concentration camps, 10 in total, built during World War II to incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans for the crime of not being white. Los Angeles Times, 27 May 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'incarcerate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of incarcerate

1575, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for incarcerate

Latin incarceratus, past participle of incarcerare, from in- + carcer prison

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The first known use of incarcerate was in 1575

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Dictionary Entries Near incarcerate

in captivity



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Cite this Entry

“Incarcerate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for incarcerate


transitive verb
in·​car·​cer·​ate | \ in-ˈkär-sə-ˌrāt How to pronounce incarcerate (audio) \
incarcerated; incarcerating

Legal Definition of incarcerate

Other Words from incarcerate

incarceration \ in-​ˌkär-​sə-​ˈrā-​shən How to pronounce incarcerate (audio) \ noun

History and Etymology for incarcerate

Latin incarceratus, past participle of incarcerare, from in- in + carcer prison

More from Merriam-Webster on incarcerate

Nglish: Translation of incarcerate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of incarcerate for Arabic Speakers


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