1 of 2


prod·​i·​gal ˈprä-di-gəl How to pronounce prodigal (audio)
: characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure : lavish
a prodigal feast
prodigal outlays for her clothes
: recklessly spendthrift
the prodigal prince
: yielding abundantly : luxuriant
often used with of
nature has been so prodigal of her bounty H. T. Buckle
prodigality noun
prodigally adverb


2 of 2


: one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly
: one who has returned after an absence
Choose the Right Synonym for prodigal

profuse, lavish, prodigal, luxuriant, lush, exuberant mean giving or given out in great abundance.

profuse implies pouring forth without restraint.

profuse apologies

lavish suggests an unstinted or unmeasured profusion.

a lavish party

prodigal implies reckless or wasteful lavishness threatening to lead to early exhaustion of resources.

prodigal spending

luxuriant suggests a rich and splendid abundance.

a luxuriant beard

lush suggests rich, soft luxuriance.

a lush green lawn

exuberant implies marked vitality or vigor in what produces abundantly.

an exuberant imagination

Example Sentences

Adjective We sipped our beers and wondered at one another, at what was left of all that and of those prodigal days. Michael Chabon, A Model World and Other Stories, 1991 The prodigal use of antibiotics in animals has the same consequence as their overprescription for human beings. Cullen Murphy, New York Times Book Review, 10 June 1984 Mr. Bulstrode replied without haste, but also without hesitation. "I am grieved, though, I confess, not surprised by this information, Mr. Lydgate. For my own part, I regretted your alliance with my brother-in-law's family, which has always been of prodigal habits, and which has already been much indebted to me for sustainment in its present position … " George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1872 the prodigal child always spent her allowance the minute she got it Noun Such a trustee had been first instituted by the praetor, to save a family from the blind havoc of a prodigal or madman … Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1788 the million-dollar lottery winner was such a prodigal that his windfall was exhausted after only a few years See More
Recent Examples on the Web
As in a film montage, our prodigal taquero hero will go off, train and perfect his craft, and come back stronger than ever. Cesar Hernandez, San Francisco Chronicle, 23 Aug. 2022 This offseason, the Patriots made just a ripple in free agency, bringing back prodigal cornerback Malcolm Butler and signing safety Jabrill Peppers. Christopher L. Gasper,, 26 July 2022 After a string of not-quite-right leaders, prodigal CEO Steve Jobs returned to the company and shook up its computer lineup with a slew of cheap, colorful iMacs in 1998. Washington Post, 10 May 2022 That said, prodigal oligarch Roman Abramovich has tried his hand--in an opaque context--to work diplomatic magic, to ostensibly push for an end to the war. Amy Kellogg, Fox News, 24 Apr. 2022 Jack, the prodigal son, is home after two decades away and a long stint in prison. Heather Hansman, The Atlantic, 24 Aug. 2022 In this setting, a young Arthur Pendragon goes on a journey to become a warrior, which takes him from prodigal son to legendary leader. K.j. Yossman, Variety, 19 Aug. 2022 McCarthy obsessives debate at length the degree to which his novel Suttree, with its descriptions of ruin from the damming of the Tennessee River, is autobiographical, a prodigal son’s rebuke of his father. Rachel Kushner, Harper’s Magazine , 20 July 2022 Seeing his mom after all these years, is an understandable desire — not that the visit goes the way this prodigal son hoped. Lisa Kennedy, Variety, 14 July 2022
He is angered by his father’s instant acceptance of the prodigal’s return. Scott Burns, Dallas News, 18 Dec. 2020 As a youth, Mr. Graham, now 65, was the prodigal of the Graham family, a college dropout fond of alcohol. Elizabeth Dias, New York Times, 27 May 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'prodigal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Adjective and Noun

Latin prodigus, from prodigere to drive away, squander, from pro-, prod- forth + agere to drive — more at pro-, agent

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1561, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near prodigal

Cite this Entry

“Prodigal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

prodigal 1 of 2


prod·​i·​gal ˈpräd-i-gəl How to pronounce prodigal (audio)
: carelessly wasteful
a prodigal spender
prodigality noun
prodigally adverb


2 of 2


: somebody who wastes money carelessly

More from Merriam-Webster on prodigal

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
Spell It

Hear a word and type it out. How many can you get right?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.