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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for incarcerate



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Did You Know?

A criminal sentenced to incarceration may wish his or her debt to society could be canceled, but 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, Latin for 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 can also have a figurative application meaning "to subject to confinement," as in "people who are incarcerated in their obsessions."

Examples of incarcerate in a Sentence

the state incarcerated over 1900 people last year
Recent Examples on the Web Or will the wealthy corporations behind legalization, such as Big Tobacco, again have a tool to incarcerate the will of minorities and others though addiction? George Realmuto, Star Tribune, "Counterpoint: Case for commercializing pot is based on pipe dreams," 21 Dec. 2020 After the Civil War, states passed disenfranchisement policies to bar people with criminal convictions from voting — and then proceeded to incarcerate Black Americans. Elly Belle,, "This Racist Form Of Voter Suppression Is Killing Democracy — & Nobody’s Talking About It," 2 Nov. 2020 Sedition and computer crime acts have been used to incarcerate others. Hannah Beech, New York Times, "Thailand Steps Up Response as Antigovernment Protests Escalate," 16 Oct. 2020 Fisher faces up to three years in prison, but a judge is not obligated to incarcerate her and could assess fines or probation instead. Cameron Knight, The Enquirer, "Mother charged in drowning death of 1-year-old girl," 8 July 2020 Butler suggests that mass incarceration says less about the problematic values held by those who would break the law and more about the problematic commitments of the nation that would incarcerate these lawbreakers with such impunity. Khiara M. Bridges, Time, "The Many Ways Institutional Racism Kills Black People," 11 June 2020 The three companies incarcerate more than 90% of inmates in private prisons in the U.S., according to the attorneys filing the suit. Maria Polletta, azcentral, "NAACP lawsuit targets Arizona private prisons, accuses state of practicing slavery," 20 June 2020 Removing the language would not affect Ohio's ability to incarcerate those convicted of crimes. Jessie Balmert,, "This Ohio lawmaker wants to abolish slavery in the state's constitution - no exceptions," 19 June 2020 The statistics are devastating in their conclusion: Britain and Australia disproportionally kill and incarcerate Black and Indigenous people. Time, "Why the Protests in the U.S. Are an Awakening for Non-Black People Around the World," 5 June 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about incarcerate

Time Traveler for incarcerate

Time Traveler

The first known use of incarcerate was in 1575

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about incarcerate

Statistics for incarcerate

Last Updated

7 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Incarcerate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for incarcerate



English Language Learners Definition of incarcerate

formal : to put (someone) in prison


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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on incarcerate

What made you want to look up incarcerate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

February 2021 Words of the Day Quiz

  • squirrel in winter
  • Which is a synonym of perdure?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!