Share this entry
jail Syllabification: jail
(British also gaol)

Definition of jail in English:


A place for the confinement of people accused or convicted of a crime: he served 15 months 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.


[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
see prison (usage)


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
Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.

Subscribe to remove ads and access premium resources