[pur-guh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee]
See more synonyms for purgatory on Thesaurus.com
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).
  3. any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.
  1. serving to cleanse, purify, or expiate.

Origin of purgatory

1175–1225; (noun) Middle English purgatorie (< Anglo-French) < Medieval Latin pūrgātōrium, noun use of neuter of Late Latin pūrgātōrius purging, equivalent to pūrgā(re) to purge + -tōrius -tory1; (adj.) Middle English purgatorie < Late Latin pūrgātōrius
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for purgatory

limbo, abyss, underworld, suffering, perdition, pit, Hades, Gehenna, Abaddon

Examples from the Web for purgatory

Contemporary Examples of purgatory

Historical Examples of purgatory

  • And now his purgatory was at an end, and of a sudden the gates of joy were open.

    Fair Margaret

    H. Rider Haggard

  • It's the wail of a lost spirit, loosed temporarily from the horrors of purgatory.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

  • He declared that he was in purgatory for certain unexpatiated sins.

    The Phantom World

    Augustin Calmet

  • Whence he concludes that it is better at once to deny absolutely that there is any purgatory.

    The Phantom World

    Augustin Calmet

  • It will take a lot of holy water to save her from purgatory.

British Dictionary definitions for purgatory


  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

Word Origin for 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

Word Origin and History for purgatory

c.1200, from Old French purgatore and directly from Medieval Latin purgatorium (St. Bernard, early 12c.), in Latin, "means of cleansing," noun use of neuter of purgatorius (adj.) "purging, cleansing," from purgat-, past participle stem of Latin purgare (see purge (v.)). Figurative use from late 14c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

purgatory in Culture


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.


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.