pris·​on | \ˈpri-zᵊn \

Definition of prison 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a state of confinement or captivity

2 : a place of confinement especially for lawbreakers specifically : an institution (such as one under state jurisdiction) for confinement of persons convicted of serious crimes — compare jail


prisoned; prisoning; prisons

Definition of prison (Entry 2 of 2)

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Synonyms for prison

Synonyms: Noun

bastille, big house [slang], bridewell, brig, calaboose, can, clink [slang], cooler, coop, guardroom, hock, hold, hoosegow, jail, jailhouse, joint [slang], jug, lockup, nick [British slang], pen, penitentiary, pokey [slang], quod [British slang], slam, slammer, stir [slang], stockade, tolbooth [Scottish]

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Examples of prison in a Sentence


The state plans to build two more prisons. He was in prison at the time. If caught, they're all going to prison. She was sent to prison for robbery. He was released from prison. He's scheduled to get out of prison next month. Her marriage became a prison to her.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Late last week, Ethiopia’s attorney general, Berhanu Tsegaye, announced the firing of five top prison officials. Ryan Lenora Brown, The Christian Science Monitor, "After years of unrest, Ethiopia enters new era of openness," 11 July 2018 When the prison officials appealed the verdict to a federal appeals court in New York, the appellate judges sided with the lower court that Mr. Allah’s rights had been violated. Alan Feuer, New York Times, "Advocates From Left and Right Ask Supreme Court to Revisit Immunity Defense," 11 July 2018 The 7th Circuit said the issue can't be framed specifically for each and every injury or illness, and that prison officials have known for years that leaving serious conditions untreated can amount to deliberate indifference. Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Transgender inmate can sue over denial of hormone treatment, U.S. Appeals Court rules," 11 July 2018 The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a motion last week asking the judge to order prison officials to improve the conditions immediately. Kate Brumback, The Seattle Times, "Report blasts Georgia solitary confinement as ‘draconian’," 10 July 2018 The only prison official who called her back was Doug Garrison, the Indiana Department of Correction spokesman. Will Higgins, Indianapolis Star, "Indianapolis inmate plays role in film but misses premiere. He's still in prison.," 9 July 2018 But in the end, TDCJ got more without needing to push back any death dates, prison officials said previously. Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle, "With 7 execution dates on the calendar, Texas just got more lethal injection drugs," 6 July 2018 This is the third federal lawsuit in just over a month to accuse Bearden and other prison officials of wrongdoing. Matt Campbell, kansascity, "'This man preys upon women': 3rd sex assault case filed against Missouri prison guard," 2 July 2018 Freddie Pickett set the fire at about 3:30 p.m. and was taken to a local medical facility, prison officials said. Joe Marusak And Ames Alexander, charlotteobserver, "NC inmate dies after lighting fire in cell," 29 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'prison.' 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 prison


12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for prison


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin prehension-, prehensio act of seizing, from prehendere to seize — more at get

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Statistics for prison

Last Updated

9 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for prison

The first known use of prison was in the 12th century

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More Definitions for prison



English Language Learners Definition of prison

: a building where people are kept as punishment for a crime or while they are waiting to go to court

: a place or situation from which you cannot escape


pris·​on | \ˈpri-zᵊn \

Kids Definition of prison

: a place where criminals are locked up



Legal Definition of prison 

: an institution usually under state control for confinement of persons serving sentences for serious crimes — compare house of correction, house of detention, jail, lockup, penitentiary

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