pur·​ga·​to·​ry | \ ˈpər-gə-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce purgatory (audio) \
plural purgatories

Definition of purgatory

1 : an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification specifically : a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God's grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven
2 : a place or state of temporary suffering or misery

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Did You Know?

Purgatory is the place where the soul is cleansed of all impurities, as Dante described in his great poem The Divine Comedy. Today purgatory can refer to any place or situation in which suffering and misery are felt to be sharp but temporary. Waiting to hear the results of a test, or whether you got a good job, can be a purgatory. And an endless after-dinner speech can make an entire roomful of people feel as if they're in purgatory.

Examples of purgatory in a Sentence

the purgatory of drug abuse The marathons were jokingly referred to as one-day purgatories.
Recent Examples on the Web While the scenery can look both bleak and breathtaking, there is optimism and hope — especially in the form of Farhad, Omar's Afghan roommate played by Bhai, who has the patience and positivity to sustain him in this strange purgatory. Hilary Fox, Star Tribune, "On a Scottish isle, 'Limbo' breaks the refugee movie mold," 30 Apr. 2021 The director maximizes the inherently surreal elements of this purgatory at the intersection of safety in Europe and the looming threat of deportation. Carlos Aguilar, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Levity mitigates the unbearable truths of global disarray in ‘Limbo’," 29 Apr. 2021 That has certainly been the case through the purgatory of the pandemic — a year of tofu and Beyond Burgers. BostonGlobe.com, "3 places we supported this week," 20 Apr. 2021 Until the general population of adults catches up, many who had a head start may find themselves in this vaccine purgatory, where specific eligibility allowed some to gain access to vaccines for reasons that aren't always publicly clear. Allison Hope, CNN, "Should you tell people you got the Covid-19 vaccine? Here's what to consider," 20 Apr. 2021 After all, White people prioritizing their feelings over racial justice progress is arguably what has held us in a purgatory of racial inequity for centuries. Dana Brownlee, Forbes, "Exhibit A Bill Maher: Why White People Should Stop Using The Term ‘Woke’…Immediately," 19 Apr. 2021 Yet leaders appear to be content to have capital punishment remain in a sort of legal purgatory, leaving more than 130 Death Row inmates, as well as their victims’ loved ones, in limbo, reports Jeremy Pelzer. Cliff Pinckard, cleveland, "Clevelanders gather, relieved to hear guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin: The Wake Up for Wednesday, April 21, 2021," 21 Apr. 2021 The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has entered regulatory purgatory. Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic, "It’s Not Over for the J&J Vaccine," 13 Apr. 2021 Many of these areas have been in this administrative purgatory for decades. Andrew Mckean, Outdoor Life, "6 Key Issues We Hope the New Interior Secretary Tackles—and How to Pull It Off in This Partisan Era," 5 Mar. 2021

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

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for purgatory

Middle English, from Anglo-French or Medieval Latin; Anglo-French purgatorie, from Medieval Latin purgatorium, from Late Latin, neuter of purgatorius purging, from Latin purgare

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Time Traveler for purgatory

Time Traveler

The first known use of purgatory was in the 13th century

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Statistics for purgatory

Last Updated

5 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Purgatory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/purgatory. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for purgatory



English Language Learners Definition of purgatory

: a state after death according to Roman Catholic belief in which the souls of people who die are made pure through suffering before going to heaven
: a place or state of suffering

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