[ pur-guh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee ]
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noun,plural pur·ga·to·ries.
  1. (in the belief of Roman Catholics and others) a condition or place in which the souls of those dying penitent are purified from venial sins, or undergo the temporal punishment that, after the guilt of mortal sin has been remitted, still remains to be endured by the sinner.

  2. (initial capital letter, italics)Italian Pur·ga·to·rio [poor-gah-taw-ryaw]. /ˌpur gɑˈtɔ ryɔ/. the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy, in which the repentant sinners are depicted.: Compare inferno (def. 3), paradise (def. 7).

  1. any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.

  1. serving to cleanse, purify, or expiate.

Origin of purgatory

First recorded in 1175–1225; (for the noun) Middle English purgatorie, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin pūrgātōrium, noun use of neuter of Late Latin pūrgātōrius “purging,” from pūrgā(re) “to purge” (see purge ) + -tōrius -tory1; adjective derivative of the noun

Words Nearby purgatory

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use purgatory in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for purgatory


/ (ˈpɜːɡətərɪ, -trɪ) /

  1. mainly RC Church a state or place in which the souls of those who have died in a state of grace are believed to undergo a limited amount of suffering to expiate their venial sins and become purified of the remaining effects of mortal sin

  2. a place or condition of suffering or torment, esp one that is temporary

Origin of purgatory

C13: from Old French purgatoire, from Medieval Latin pūrgātōrium, literally: place of cleansing, from Latin pūrgāre to purge

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

Cultural definitions for purgatory


In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the condition of souls of the dead who die with some punishment (though not damnation) due them for their sins. Purgatory is conceived as a condition of suffering and purification that leads to union with God in heaven. Purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible (see also Bible); Catholic authorities defend the teaching on purgatory by arguing that prayer for the dead is an ancient practice of Christianity and that this practice assumes that the dead can be in a state of suffering — a state that the living can improve by their prayers.

Notes for purgatory

A “purgatory” is, by extension, any place of suffering, usually for past misdeeds.

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.