in·car·cer·ate | \in-ˈkär-sə-ˌrāt \
incarcerated; incarcerating

Definition of incarcerate 

transitive verb

1 : to put in prison

2 : to subject to confinement

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Other Words from incarcerate

incarceration \(ˌ)in-ˌkär-sə-ˈrā-shən \ noun

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

One out of every 11 people who died of overdoses in Massachusetts had been incarcerated recently, according to a state analysis of data from 2011 to 2015. Felice J. Freyer,, "Addicted people often end up in jail. That can be deadly for them," 9 July 2018 My sibling, who is my only living relative, is currently incarcerated. New York Times, "What Do I Owe My Sociopathic Sibling?," 2 July 2018 Teame had been incarcerated in Saharonim after entering Israel in 2008, and later had spent a year at Holot. Brian Goldstone, The New Republic, "Essential reporting, interpretation, and opinion on politics and culture. Don't miss our latest.," 26 June 2018 By then, Shanigan and Gordon were already incarcerated on other felony charges. Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, "Woman wanted in 2017 Anchorage killing arrested after traffic stop," 25 June 2018 Such noteworthy criminals as Al Capone and Willie Sutton were incarcerated at Philadelphia’s big house. Ed Condran,, "Philadelphia Emerges As Colorful Travel Destination," 24 June 2018 If accompanied by children, those kids could not be incarcerated with the adults. Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY, "Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders kicked out of Virginia restaurant by owner," 23 June 2018 Well over 100,000 people are incarcerated in California’s prison system. David Roderick,, "State Lines: A poem by Natalie Graham," 14 June 2018 Shoe designer Steve Madden was incarcerated in 2002 for stock manipulation and securities fraud. Christina Binkley, WSJ, "Why Kate Spade Sales Surged After the Designer’s Death," 8 June 2018

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

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

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Statistics for incarcerate

Last Updated

18 Oct 2018

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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

: to put (someone) in prison


transitive verb
in·car·cer·ate | \in-ˈkär-sə-ˌrāt \
incarcerated; incarcerating

Legal Definition of incarcerate 

Other Words from incarcerate

incarceration \in-ˌkär-sə-ˈrā-shən \ noun

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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).


to reject or criticize sharply

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