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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English gayole, gaylle, gaille, gayle, gaile, via Old French gaiole, gayolle, gaole, from Medieval Latin gabiola, for Late Latin caveola, a diminutive of Latin cavea (cavity, coop, cage). Doublet of caveola and related to cage. More at cajole.


  • IPA(key): /d͡ʒeɪ(ə)l/
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪl


jail (countable and uncountable, plural jails)

  1. A place or institution for the confinement of persons held against their will in lawful custody or detention, especially (in US usage) a place where people are held for minor offenses or with reference to some future judicial proceeding.
    Synonyms: slammer, hoosegow
    Coordinate terms: big house, prison
    Hypernyms: correctional facility, correctional institution
    • 1966, Robert Coover, “Part II, section 11”, in The Origin of the Brunists, first edition, page 218:
      Taking a shower at the high school, Tommy (the Kitten) Cavanaugh kids Ugly Palmers. "Ugly, if you think the world is coming to an end," he says, "what are you wasting your time here at this jail for? You gonna need American history up there?"
    • 2015 June 7, “Bail”, in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, season 2, episode 16, HBO:
      “I’m out!” That, of course, is an excerpt from Robert Durst’s children’s books [sic], Goodbye Jail. “Goodbye money. Goodbye bail. I killed them all, but goodbye jail. Of course! Of course!”
  2. (uncountable) Confinement in a jail.
    • 2011 December 14, Steven Morris, “Devon woman jailed for 168 days for killing kitten in microwave”, in Guardian[1]:
      He said Robins had not been in trouble with the law before and had no previous convictions. Jail would have an adverse effect on her and her three children as she was the main carer.
  3. (horse racing) The condition created by the requirement that a horse claimed in a claiming race not be run at another track for some period of time (usually 30 days).
  4. In dodgeball and related games, the area where players who have been struck by the ball are confined.
  5. (computing, FreeBSD) A kind of sandbox for running a guest operating system instance.

Usage notes[edit]

  • (place of confinement): Like many nouns denoting places where people spend time, jail requires no article after certain prepositions: hence in jail (detained in a jail), go to jail (become detained in a jail), and so on. The forms in a jail, go to a jail, and so on do exist, but tend to imply mere presence in the jail, rather than detention there. Compare also in the hoosegow/slammer.
  • Until Monopoly popularised the spelling jail in the UK and Australia, gaol was the standard spelling in these countries.
  • In the United States, there is a formal distinction between the terms jail and prison – the former refers to facilities run by local governments, the later refers to facilities run by the state and federal governments; however, this distinction is not always observed in informal usage. By contrast, in most of the rest of the English-speaking world, the two terms are synonymous.

Derived terms[edit]


  • Hindustani:
    • Hindi: जेल (jel)
    • Urdu: جیل(jel)
  • Punjabi: ਜੇਲ੍ਹ (jelh)
  • Welsh: jêl, jael



jail (third-person singular simple present jails, present participle jailing, simple past and past participle jailed)

  1. To imprison.
    • 2013 August 10, “Can China clean up fast enough?”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8848:
      It has jailed environmental activists and is planning to limit the power of judicial oversight by handing a state-approved body a monopoly over bringing environmental lawsuits.
    • 2020 September 9, “Network News: Man jailed for Hillingdon murder”, in Rail, page 25:
      A 22-year-old man has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years for fatally stabbing 22-year-old Tashan Daniel in an unprovoked attack at Hillingdon Underground station on September 24 2019.