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jail Syllabification: jail
(British also gaol)

Definition of jail in English:


1A place for the confinement of people accused or convicted of a crime: he spent 15 years in jail [as modifier]: a jail sentence
More example sentences
  • Last year the number of inmates in the nation's prisons and jails reached nearly 1,932,000, a record number.
  • David Brown says the Royal Commission helped end the violence against prisoners which existed in some jails.
  • In February the United States reached a benchmark of 2 million individuals in its prisons and jails.
1.1Confinement in a jail: she was sentenced to three months' jail
More example sentences
  • My understanding of the materials is that between the time of the first offence and now he would have spent roughly about 15 to 16 months out of gaol.
  • With 89 convictions to his name, he had only been out of jail for two months at the time of the fatal collision.
  • Brian Irlam, defending, said Cooper had been out of jail for a few months and this was his first blemish.


[with object] (usually be jailed) Back to top  
Put (someone) in jail: the driver was jailed for two years
More example sentences
  • But they decided that, well for a start she's not likely to do it again, and that no useful purpose would be spent by jailing her.
  • As well as jailing him for three years, she also ordered he forfeit £165 he had with him when he was arrested, and that the heroin be destroyed.
  • As well as jailing him for eight weeks magistrates imposed another driving ban, which runs out at the same time as his current disqualification.
imprison, put in prison, send to prison, incarcerate, lock up, put away, intern, detain, hold (prisoner/captive), put into detention, put behind bars, put inside


Middle English: based on Latin cavea (see cage). The word came into English in two forms, jaiole from Old French and gayole from Anglo-Norman French gaole (surviving in the spelling gaol), originally pronounced with a hard g, as in gale.

  • The words jail and cage (Middle English) both go back to Latin cavea ‘hollow, cave, cell’, from cavus ‘hollow’ the source of cave. In Late Latin the -ea at the end of cavea softened to a ‘ya’ or ‘ja’ sound, which explains the sound changes between the source and the forms we use. Jail arrived in medieval English in two forms, from Old French jaiole and Anglo-Norman gaole, which survives in the old-fashioned British spelling gaol.

Words that rhyme with jail

ail, ale, assail, avail, bail, bale, bewail, brail, Braille, chain mail, countervail, curtail, dale, downscale, drail, dwale, entail, exhale, fail, faille, flail, frail, Gael, Gail, gale, Grail, grisaille, hail, hale, impale, kale, mail, male, webmail, nonpareil, outsail, pail, pale, quail, rail, sail, sale, sangrail, scale, shale, snail, stale, swale, tail, tale, they'll, trail, upscale, vail, vale, veil, surveil, wail, wale, whale, Yale

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Word of the day innocuous
Pronunciation: ɪˈnɒkjʊəs
not harmful or offensive