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[priz-uh n] /ˈprɪz ən/
a building for the confinement of persons held while awaiting trial, persons sentenced after conviction, etc.
any place of confinement or involuntary restraint.
Origin of prison
before 1150; Middle English prison, earlier prisun < Old French, variant of preson imprisonment, a prison < Latin pre(hē)nsiōn- (stem of prehēnsiō) a seizure, arrest, equivalent to prehēns(us) (past participle of prehendere to seize) + -iōn- -ion; doublet of prehension
Related forms
prisonlike, adjective
postprison, adjective
Can be confused
jail, prison. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for prison
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • To escape—only to escape from the prison walls of a humdrum existence, and to soar!

    A Modern Chronicle, Complete Winston Churchill
  • He was strangled in his prison, and afterwards publicly beheaded .

  • We are bringing you to the Dominican prison, señor; you will be better used there.

    The Spanish Brothers Deborah Alcock
  • A colon was flogged, chained, and thrown into prison, where he was forgotten.

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
  • For my part, if I could have my way, he should be sent to the State's prison; it would only be too good for him.

    Ella Clinton Martha Farquharson
British Dictionary definitions for prison


a public building used to house convicted criminals and accused persons remanded in custody and awaiting trial See also jail, penitentiary, reformatory
any place of confinement or seeming confinement
Word Origin
C12: from Old French prisun, from Latin prēnsiō a capturing, from prehendere to lay hold of
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for prison

early 12c., from Old French prisoun "captivity, imprisonment; prison; prisoner, captive" (11c., Modern French prison), altered (by influence of pris "taken;" see prize (n.2)) from earlier preson, from Vulgar Latin *presionem, from Latin prensionem (nominative prensio), shortening of prehensionem (nominative *prehensio) "a taking," noun of action from past participle stem of prehendere "to take" (see prehensile). "Captivity," hence by extension "a place for captives," the main modern sense.


"to imprison," early 14c., from prison (n.) or Old French prisoner (v.). Related: Prisoned; prisoning.


"to imprison," early 14c., from prison (n.) or Old French prisoner (v.). Related: Prisoned; prisoning.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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