• synonyms


[in-kwuh-zish-uhn, ing-]
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  1. an official investigation, especially one of a political or religious nature, characterized by lack of regard for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the examiners, and recklessly cruel punishments.
  2. any harsh, difficult, or prolonged questioning.
  3. the act of inquiring; inquiry; research.
  4. an investigation, or process of inquiry.
  5. a judicial or official inquiry.
  6. the finding of such an inquiry.
  7. the document embodying the result of such inquiry.
  8. (initial capital letter) Roman Catholic Church.
    1. a former special tribunal, engaged chiefly in combating and punishing heresy.Compare Holy Office.
    2. Spanish Inquisition.
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Origin of inquisition

1350–1400; Middle English inquisicio(u)n < Latin inquīsītiōn- (stem of inquīsītiō), equivalent to inquīsīt(us) past participle of inquīrere to inquire + -iōn- -ion
Related formsin·qui·si·tion·al, adjectivepre·in·qui·si·tion, noun


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

interrogation, trial, investigation, inquiry, cross-examination

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British Dictionary definitions for inquisition


  1. the act of inquiring deeply or searchingly; investigation
  2. a deep or searching inquiry, esp a ruthless official investigation of individuals in order to suppress revolt or root out the unorthodox
  3. an official inquiry, esp one held by a jury before an officer of the Crown
  4. another word for inquest (def. 2)
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Derived Formsinquisitional, adjectiveinquisitionist, noun

Word Origin

C14: from legal Latin inquīsītiō, from inquīrere to seek for; see inquire


  1. history a judicial institution of the Roman Catholic Church (1232–1820) founded to discover and suppress heresySee also Spanish Inquisition
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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

Word Origin and History for inquisition


late 14c., "judicial investigation, act or process of inquiring," from Old French inquisicion "inquiry, investigation" (12c.), from Latin inquisitionem (nominative inquisitio) "a searching into, legal examination," noun of action from past participle stem of inquirere (see inquire).

In Church history, inquisitors were appointed from 382 C.E. to root out heretics, and the Inquisition refers to the ecclesiastical court (Congregation of the Holy Office) appointed 13c. by Innocent III to suppress heresy. It never operated in Britain. The capital letter form appeared in English only after c.1500, and usually refers to the office's reorganization 1478-1483 in Spain as what is commonly called the Spanish Inquisition.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

inquisition in Culture


A court established by the Roman Catholic Church in the thirteenth century to try cases of heresy and other offenses against the church. Those convicted could be handed over to the civil authorities for punishment, including execution.

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The Inquisition was most active in Spain, especially under Tomás de Torquemada (see also Torquemada); its officials sometimes gained confessions through torture. It did not cease operation in the Spanish Empire until the nineteenth century.


By association, a harsh or unjust trial or interrogation may be called an “inquisition.”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.