[ prod-i-guhl ]
/ ˈprɒd ɪ gəl /
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wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
giving or yielding profusely; very generous; lavish (usually followed by of or with): prodigal of smiles; prodigal with praise.
lavishly abundant; profuse: nature's prodigal resources.
a person who is wasteful of his or her money, possessions, etc.; spendthrift: In later years, he was a prodigal of his fortune.
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Which form is used to state an obligation or duty someone has?

Origin of prodigal

First recorded in 1500–10; back formation from prodigality

synonym study for prodigal

1. See lavish.


prod·i·gal·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does prodigal mean?

Prodigal generally refers to spending money in a reckless, extravagant way. It is often used in reference to the Biblical parable of the prodigal son.

Where does prodigal come from?

The adjective prodigal is evidenced in English in the 1400s, ultimately from the Latin prōdigus, “extravagant, lavish.” Then as now, prodigal characterizes someone who is reckless with money. Starting in the 16th century, prodigal has been used as a noun for a spendthrift.

Prodigal has been especially used in reference to the Parable of Prodigal Son in the Bible  (Luke 15:11-32). The story relates the tale of a disobedient son who leaves home and squanders his inheritance—only to return humbled, penitent, and celebrated by his father. Among Christians, the parable illustrates divine love and spiritual redemption. Prodigal child has been used in reference to the story since 1508, prodigal son since 1555. Prodigal daughter is evidenced by the late 1700s.

Thanks to the parable, prodigal itself has come to describe someone or something “wayward,” (e.g., the prodigal sheep wandered from the rest of the flock for greener pastures). It has also come to describe a “repentant return” more generally. For instance, when basketball player LeBron James returned to play for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 after leaving for the Miami Heat, the press often referred to him as a prodigal son.

How is prodigal used in real life?

Prodigal is very often encountered in the phrase prodigal son/daughter/child in both formal and informal contexts for someone who reformed their reckless ways. Among Christians, prodigal is also frequently used in direct discussion of the parable.

Prodigal has appeared in the titles of many cultural products, from Christian songs (Laura Story’s 2011 “Prodigal Song”) to popular novels (Danielle Steel’s 2015 Prodigal Son) to action films (2014’s Wayward: The Prodigal Son).

More examples of prodigal:

“Celebrating. The prodigal files returned.”
—@jploh, December, 2007

“#OneDirectionReunion is just like return of the prodigal son 😂 … “
—@Meheux_ferguson, April, 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use prodigal in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for prodigal

/ (ˈprɒdɪɡəl) /

recklessly wasteful or extravagant, as in disposing of goods or money
lavish in giving or yieldingprodigal of compliments
a person who spends lavishly or squanders money

Derived forms of prodigal

prodigality, nounprodigally, adverb

Word Origin for prodigal

C16: from Medieval Latin prōdigālis wasteful, from Latin prōdigus lavish, from prōdigere to squander, from pro- 1 + agere to drive
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