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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 bountyH. T. Buckle
prodigality noun
prodigally adverb


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: 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

Examples of prodigal in a Sentence

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
Martin, too, has passed, and the prodigal Dr. Crane returns to Boston after attending his dad's funeral in Seattle, hoping to reconnect with his own son, Freddy (the also British Jack Cutmore-Scott). Lester Fabian Brathwaite,, 12 Oct. 2023 None is more electrifying than a traditional spiritual about the prodigal son, which Oglesby uses to net her first theatrical role. Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities, 29 Jan. 2024 The prodigal Jane’s story alternates with that of an eager young Lenape trader, Le-le-wa’-yu (also played by Frances), whose family signs a sales contract for the island of Manhattan with the director of the Dutch West India Company, Peter Minuit (Jeffrey King). Helen Shaw, The New Yorker, 7 Dec. 2023 Facebook Show more sharing options Sez Me … While not our prodigal sons by definition, the best of them do leaveth. Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2 Dec. 2023 But the deeper throughline of The Stones and Brian Jones involves the primal wound of a prodigal son. Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 Nov. 2023 In Sweden, summer is embraced like the return of a prodigal son. Madeline Weinfield, Travel + Leisure, 11 Oct. 2023 The stunning episode, written by Jacobs, is a remarkably subtle sketch of a tough but vulnerable child and a prodigal but sincere parent taking the first steps toward having an adult relationship. James Poniewozik, New York Times, 27 Sep. 2023 The Mabie brothers promptly ejected Conklin from the big top, wishing him the best of luck in his new home of middle-of-nowhere Texas, and waited patiently for the prodigal clown to return. Allison Robicelli, Washington Post, 21 June 2023
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 examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'prodigal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 5 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
prod·​i·​gal ˈpräd-i-gəl How to pronounce prodigal (audio)
: carelessly wasteful
a prodigal spender
prodigality noun
prodigally adverb


2 of 2 noun
: somebody who wastes money carelessly

More from Merriam-Webster on prodigal

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