pur·​ga·​to·​ry ˈpər-gə-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce purgatory (audio)
plural purgatories
: 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
: a place or state of temporary suffering or misery

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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 The Times took an in-depth look at De León’s trajectory over the last year — his effort to claw his way out of political purgatory, his gradual reemergence at City Hall, his bid to win back the support of his constituents. Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times, 9 Oct. 2023 That could leave victims and survivors of that wrongdoing in this bizarre legal purgatory: overseen by a bankruptcy judge who does not have the power to rule on their claims against the wrongdoers but who has the power to prevent them from ever being heard. Libby Lewis, The New Republic, 3 Oct. 2023 But don’t relinquish your black flats to running errands or commuting-only purgatory. Alexis Bennett Parker, Vogue, 30 Aug. 2023 Gambling on a ‘pragmatic’ Hamas was a deadly mistake, analysts say Now, Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and workers from Gaza are caught in legal purgatory. Sufian Taha, Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2023 This stigma peaked in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, when people with Hansen’s disease were said to literally be doing their time in purgatory while still alive, and were banished to the edge of town to beg for alms. Rachel Feltman, Popular Science, 11 Oct. 2023 Universal found itself in purgatory over the Oct. 6-8 weekend with the release of The Exorcist: Believer, which is envisioned as a trilogy kickoff reboot of the iconic horror title. James Hibberd, The Hollywood Reporter, 10 Oct. 2023 Now a much smaller lender called Republic First Bank is in financial purgatory, a case that may test regulators and turn the idea of too-big-to-fail upside down. Jonathan Weil, WSJ, 9 Sep. 2023 The team arrived in paradise in a certain kind of NBA purgatory: The franchise built to win now but perpetually left to wait until next year. Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times, 8 Oct. 2023 See More

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near purgatory

Cite this Entry

“Purgatory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/purgatory. Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


pur·​ga·​to·​ry ˈpər-gə-ˌtōr-ē How to pronounce purgatory (audio)
plural purgatories
: a state after death in which according to Roman Catholic belief the souls of those who die in God's grace are purified of their sins by suffering
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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