penitentiary

1 of 2

noun

pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry ˌpe-nə-ˈten(t)-sh(ə-)rē How to pronounce penitentiary (audio)
plural penitentiaries
1
a
: an officer in some Roman Catholic dioceses vested with power from the bishop to deal with cases of a nature normally handled only by the bishop
b
capitalized : a cardinal presiding over a tribunal of the Roman curia (see curia sense 3) concerned with dispensations (see dispensation sense 2) and indulgences
2
: a public institution in which offenders against the law are confined for detention or punishment
specifically : a state or federal prison in the U.S.
a federal penitentiary in Virginia

penitentiary

2 of 2

adjective

pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry ˌpe-nə-ˈten(t)-sh(ə-)rē How to pronounce penitentiary (audio)
 sense 1 also  -ˈten(t)-shē-ˌer-ē
1
2
: of, relating to, or incurring confinement in a penitentiary

Examples of penitentiary in a Sentence

Noun a sentence in the state penitentiary for robbery
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
The inmate's lethal injection was planned for Tuesday evening at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. CBS News, 16 July 2024 America’s approach to penitentiaries hasn’t changed much since Cool Hand Luke: Many prisons today are cheaply designed, poorly maintained, and lack adequate ventilation. Umair Irfan, Vox, 11 July 2024
Adjective
These letters, as in any penitentiary institution in the world, are read and censored. Júlia Ledur, Washington Post, 1 June 2023 Judge Octavio Rothschuh Andino announced the release of at least 222 inmates by the Nicaraguan penitentiary system at a press conference on Thursday, saying several were already en route to the US. Stefano Pozzebon, CNN, 9 Feb. 2023 See all Example Sentences for penitentiary 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'penitentiary.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Noun and Adjective

Middle English penitenciary, from Medieval Latin poenitentiarius, from poenitentia

First Known Use

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Adjective

1577, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of penitentiary was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near penitentiary

Cite this Entry

“Penitentiary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/penitentiary. Accessed 22 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

penitentiary

noun
pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry
ˌpen-ə-ˈtench-(ə-)rē
plural penitentiaries
: a usually state or federal prison in which criminals are kept

Legal Definition

penitentiary

noun
pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry ˌpe-nə-ˈten-chə-rē How to pronounce penitentiary (audio)
plural penitentiaries
: a state or federal prison for the punishment and reformation of convicted felons compare house of correction, house of detention, jail, lockup

More from Merriam-Webster on penitentiary

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