penitentiary

A penitentiary is a prison for big-time criminals convicted of big-time crimes. Commit a serious crime like a murder and you won't just go to jail; you'll be sent to the penitentiary.

Penitentiary comes from the Latin paenitentia, meaning "repentance." A penitentiary is a place you are sent to make repentance for a crime committed. Penitentiary can also be used as an adjective to describe something done to show penance, as in the penitentiary scarlet "A" on Hester Prynne's chest. In the Roman Catholic Church, a penitentiary is a priest who administers the sacrament of penance, or hears people's confessions.

Definitions of penitentiary
  1. noun
    a correctional institution for those convicted of major crimes
    synonyms: pen
    see moresee less
    type of:
    correctional institution
    a penal institution maintained by the government
  2. adjective
    used for punishment or reform of criminals or wrongdoers
    penitentiary institutions”
    Synonyms:
    punitive, punitory
    inflicting punishment
  3. adjective
    showing or constituting penance
    synonyms: penitential
    penitent, repentant
    feeling or expressing remorse for misdeeds
Word Family
EDITOR’S CHOICE

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by Vocabulary.com’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.

SAT/PSAT

$19.95
  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week

TOEFL

$19.95
  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week