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

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Synonyms & Antonyms for incarcerate


commit, confine, immure, imprison, intern, jail, jug, lock (up)


discharge, free, liberate, release

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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

Even more disturbing, an alarmingly high proportion of disconnected black males ages 16 to 24 — nearly a fifth — are incarcerated, compared with just 0.3 percent of that age cohort overall. Robert Cherry, National Review, "The Case for More Occupational Training," 25 July 2019 Wheeler’s father, Eric Wheeler, was incarcerated for much of her childhood. Tyler Kraft, Indianapolis Star, "How devastating loss and impossible odds motivated Erica Wheeler's WNBA rise," 25 July 2019 The Morris County man was incarcerated on a burglary charge, and had been in custody at the 600-person rural prison for just under a month as a condition of his probation, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials. Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle, "Prison officials hunt for escapee who fled East Texas lock-up," 22 July 2019 In 1893, one in every 5,000 white Virginians was incarcerated; the figure for black Virginians was 7.5 out of every 5,000. Drew Gilpin Faust, The Atlantic, "Race, History, and Memories of a Virginia Girlhood," 18 July 2019 Families of inmates share stories The FAMM Foundation on Twitter held a discussion on issues impacting families whose loved ones are incarcerated. Lauren Castle, azcentral, "#VisitAPrison encourages Arizona lawmakers to learn about incarceration," 9 July 2019 Some of those who tested negative for disease were incarcerated anyway, because their alleged promiscuity was deemed a threat to soldiers’ moral hygiene. Kim Kelly, The New Republic, "A Forgotten War on Women," 22 May 2018 The study also found a defendant was more likely to be incarcerated after their 30th day in jail., "Study finds jail before trial doubles incarceration chances in Oregon," 22 July 2019 Black people are more than five times more likely to be incarcerated than are white people, making up 32 percent of America’s population but accounting for a disproportionate 56 percent of the prison population. Taina Mcfield, Essence, "My True Independence Day Hasn't Arrived Yet," 4 July 2019

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.

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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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Statistics for incarcerate

Last Updated

9 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for incarcerate

The first known use of incarcerate was in 1575

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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 incarceration (audio) \ noun

History and Etymology for incarcerate

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

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of or relating to the heavens

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