Definition of prodigal in US English:



  • 1Spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.

    ‘prodigal habits die hard’
    • ‘It is short-sighted and a prodigal use of limited resources.’
    • ‘It is doubtful if our own rust-bucket Chancellor, with his prodigal handouts, redistributist mania and fiscal incontinence could outdo this supposedly Republican administration.’
    • ‘Even the sport most apt to have a prodigal star, tennis, rarely has a 19-year-old dominate in the men's game.’
    • ‘Retaining the centralized banking systems that prevail worldwide today with their monstrously prodigal paper instruments is no answer.’
    • ‘Go hard on those sugar farmers, or should I say, go hard on that prodigal federal government.’
    • ‘The film revolves around a prodigal father figure, Royal Tenenbaum, played by Gene Hackman auditioning for the Oscars.’
    • ‘Team coach Tim Murphy had no doubt that their prodigal first half wastage (they shot ten wides to Ballygunner's two) was critical in determining the outcome.’
    • ‘Nearly everywhere there are signs that the prodigal economy is staggering home from its three-year slough of despond.’
    • ‘His reluctance to utter the word ‘sorry’ in this case might seem odd because Blair used to be notorious for his prodigal use of the apology.’
    • ‘Above all, the Executive must curb its own prodigal spending.’
    • ‘Jaded by the excesses of a prodigal youth in English society at home and on the Continent, he is at first merely anxious to relieve his ennui by touring the countryside.’
    • ‘As Mauss perceptively noted, the gift economy enhances the authority of the most prodigal giver, not of the most aggressive hoarder.’
    • ‘This look says that the wearers, whatever they do or say, must be treated like prodigal children rather than responsible adults, and exempts them from all the usual pressures of conformity.’
    • ‘On the other hand, Justin's father, the prodigal father, was singing and grooving in $2,000 suits that you know Justin is going to be paying for a week from now.’
    • ‘Call me reckless, prodigal even, but I've been spending up big on electricity.’
    • ‘The Tories are non-starters as a party of government and the Lib Dems aspire to be more prodigal spendthrifts than Gordon Brown.’
    • ‘How this will play out, especially given the frequency with which Americans and other prodigal consumers already clog more modern equipment, is one big unknown.’
    • ‘A second concern is the ‘deficit doesn't matter attitude’ being bandied about by certain prodigal U.S. politicians.’
    • ‘At this point, Leih Tseih reveals his prodigal past to Ku Yum.’
    • ‘Poor William of Occam (whose logical razor is supposed to cut out unnecessarily prodigal assumptions) must be turning in his grave at the thought of such a multiplication of entities.’
    wasteful, extravagant, spendthrift, improvident, imprudent, immoderate, profligate, thriftless, excessive, intemperate, irresponsible, self-indulgent, reckless, wanton
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  • 2Having or giving something on a lavish scale.

    ‘the dessert was crunchy with brown sugar and prodigal with whipped cream’
    • ‘A Danish composer whose catalogue contains almost 700 works, Niels Viggo Bentzon was a dynamic creative artist of prodigal talents.’
    • ‘Beside the little plateau a rocky basin of roughly the same shape and dimensions caught the thundering water in its downward rush, tossing it high, splashing and spraying, breezing falling flowers and mist with prodigal liberality.’
    • ‘Caesar, or Christ, that is the question: the vast, attractive, skeptical world, with its pleasures and ambitions and its prodigal promise, or the meek, majestic, and winning figure of Him of Nazareth?’
    • ‘Nature is prodigal in its approach to fertility (witness the huge number of sperm in any ejaculation), but we no longer need that prodigality.’
    • ‘In a book so prodigal of riches one finds, unbelievably, neither an index nor a glossary.’
    • ‘The hand is self - addressed as no other organ in the animal kingdom, and it has a prodigal inventiveness permitting choice also unmatched in other living creatures.’
    • ‘As a small boy, Stephen showed few signs of prodigal genius; he was slow to learn to read but liked to take things apart - a way of ‘finding out how the world around me worked’.’
    generous, lavish, liberal, unstinting, unsparing, bountiful
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  • 1A person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.

    • ‘Far from the wanton prodigal that she had seemed, Sarah turns out to be a faithful keeper of promises - even when they impinge upon (what she had believed to be) her greatest happiness.’
    • ‘The mythological god of riches guards the fourth circle, which holds the prodigal and the greedy.’
    • ‘When it comes to love, God is the great prodigal - extravagant, a spendthrift, and oblivious to cost.’
    • ‘Epistle III, to Lord Bathurst, deals with the use of riches, which is understood by few, neither the avaricious nor the prodigal deriving happiness from them.’
    • ‘That night, having effected a cure, the alluring Eva is discovered in delecto flagrante with the young prodigal and promptly repudiated by the elders.’
    • ‘But the 21-year old heroin-addicted punk rocker from southern England wasn't the only prodigal.’
    • ‘In reckless extravagance he outdid the prodigals of all times in ingenuity… and set before his guests loaves and meats of gold, declaring that a man ought either to be frugal or be Caesar.’
    • ‘This includes not just creditors but, above all, the little man who is forced to keep his meager savings in the form of cash, i.e., paper money open to plunder by the prodigal which is the consortium of the banks and the government.’
    • ‘As a prodigal, Tom is forever annoying Sid, his priggish, elder half brother.’
    • ‘Though he never mentions him, Tony Hendra has much in common with another prodigal, a man born two generations before him: Malcolm Muggeridge.’
    profligate, prodigal, squanderer, waster
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    1. 1.1 A person who leaves home and behaves recklessly, but later makes a repentant return.
      • ‘Slowly, as the prodigal sons returned from the West, galleries began to develop, new painters emerged, and some kind of climate was created for art.’
      • ‘And what has brought about the return of the prodigal son more than a year after he stepped out of the limelight?’
      • ‘The prodigal ex-hippie who returns to an Essex village after blagging his way through eight years on the scrounge is still as charming and feckless as ever.’
      • ‘I felt like the returned prodigal - wasteful, superfluous.’
      • ‘In the end it proved to be, but only after the Londoners had threatened to spoil the party and upstage the return of the prodigal son.’
      • ‘This is the perfect time for the prodigal daughter to return to her roots.’
      • ‘Did I think I'd find a ticker-tape parade laid on for the return of the prodigal son?’
      • ‘In their midst stood the prodigal son returned, the towering figure of Sajid Mahmood, built for bowling fast if ever anybody was.’
      • ‘It was billed as the return of the prodigal son, the homecoming that would put fire in the bellies of the young Borders recruits and bums on seats at Netherdale.’
      • ‘And I received the welcome of a prodigal in my house.’
      • ‘The prodigal returns home to marry his high school sweetheart and to mind the store, but the lure of rock and roll ultimately calls him away from responsibility.’
      • ‘He recognises me, after 17 years: the prodigal's homecoming.’
      • ‘The owners will declare an impasse this fall or next, then impose a salary cap and invite the prodigals to cross a picket line to join career minor leaguers in what will be a decidedly inferior confederation.’
      • ‘My mother was back - eight months with me and another five back home, and she had returned like the prodigal, no longer self-indulgent in her grief.’
      • ‘In Jesus' story of the prodigal, the father welcomes his boy home be redefining what it means to belong to the family.’
      • ‘He is continuing to build up his panel in trial matches and gave a trial to a few newcomers or returning prodigals at the weekend.’
      • ‘When he returned after winning the contest to his one-bedroomed home in a government building in central Dharavi, he was treated like a long-lost prodigal.’
      • ‘This is the homecoming, the return of the prodigal sons to the family fold.’
      • ‘The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?’
      • ‘Then we went out to my local and it really was like the prodigal son had returned: applause, warmth, girls coming up to me, a guy buying me a drink.’


Late Middle English: from late Latin prodigalis, from Latin prodigus ‘lavish’.