The Meaning of Limbo: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of limbo? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word limbo, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What does the word limbo mean?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Collins English Dictionary, limbo refers to the state of being in between two stages and uncertain or unclear of what will happen next. The pronunciation of limbo is ˈlɪmbəʊ.

In some Christian religions, limbo is thought to be where babies go after they die if they have not been baptized. This eternal abode or state is in between heaven and hell. It is thought that the souls of infants or other people dying in original sin but free of grievous personal sin go here. It is also thought that this is a temporary abode or state of all holy souls after death and where people who died before the coming of Christ go. In Roman Catholicism and theology this is also where these innocent souls exist temporarily until they can enter heaven. The saints who died before the advent of Christ are called limbus patruum, and the children who are baptized are called limbus infantum in this supposed abode of infants.

This afterlife condition is not just a limbo of the infants, but thought to be a type of purgatory between the distinct parts of the hell of the damned, or the underworld, and heaven. Souls with an unresolved status are also thought to go here. This unknown intermediate place is a midway state of oblivion and state of uncertainty. Hene, this midway state can be known as limbo. Virtuous souls and righteous souls are thought to go to heaven, but if someone has a mixed past, they may go to limbo.

According to Your Dictionary, limbo is also a dance in which the participant must duck lower and lower to get underneath a pole without touching the pole or the ground. This originated in the West Indies. The stick is lowered with each round, and the game is won by the player who passes under the bar in the lowest position. In this Caribbean dance, dancers pass under a horizontal bar and after each successive pass, the bar is lower and lower. As the dancer bends they must stay on their feet and not touch their knees or other part of the body to the bar or floor. This Jamaican word is likely an alteration of limber as it is a physical agility test and is probably ultimately of African origin. 

Many different languages also contain words that mean limbo. You may notice that many of these words look and sound very similar to the word limbo. This is likely because they have the same root word or ancestral language, such as Latin or Greek. Often, this is how cognates are formed. Cognates are words that look, sound, and mean the same thing between languages. This list of translations for the word limbo is provided by Word Sense.

  •  French: limbes‎ (masc. pl.)
  •  Armenian: քավարան‎
  •  Dutch: limbo‎ (neut.), limbus‎, vagevuur‎, voorgeborchte‎ (neut.)
  •  German: Limbus‎ (masc.), Vorhölle‎ (fem.)
  •  Russian: лимб‎ (masc.)
  •  Korean: 림보‎ (rimbo), 지옥의 변방‎ (jiog-ui byanbang)
  •  Polish: otchłań‎ (fem.)
  •  Mandarin: 靈薄獄‎, 灵薄狱‎ (língbáoyù)
  •  Japanese: 辺獄‎ (へんごく, hengoku), 辺土‎ (へんど, hendo)
  •  Finnish: limbus‎, välitila‎
  •  Portuguese: limbo‎ (masc.)

What is the origin of the word limbo?

Middle English Medieval Latin limbō, which is the ablative of limbus limbo. This is also related to the Jamaican English limba

What are synonyms and antonyms of limbo?

There are many different words that can be used in place of the word limbo. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are very useful to know if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself as well as if you are looking to expand your vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word limbo is provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  quod
  •  incertitude
  •  calaboose
  •  hades
  •  out there
  •  constraint
  •  dance
  •  absentmindedness
  •  delay
  •  twilight zone
  •  perdition
  •  abyss
  •  repression
  •  dreamscape
  •  treading water 
  •  shuffling step
  •  nirvana
  •  neglect
  •  limbus
  •  pit
  •  coop
  •  infernal regions
  •  obliviousness
  •  gaol
  •  abstraction
  •  place of torment
  •  state of imprisonment
  •  captivity
  •  lockup
  •  obscurity
  •  difficulty
  •  demilitarized zone
  •  state of neglect
  •  bottomless pit
  •  purgatory
  •  left field
  •  inferno
  •  carelessness
  •  horror
  •  prison house
  •  pandemonium
  •  prison
  •  siberia
  •  fond illusion
  •  nightmare
  •  confinement
  •  everlasting fire
  •  condition of neglect
  •  in abeyance
  •  netherworld
  •  dials
  •  lethe
  •  suspended
  •  nowhere
  •  pound
  •  misery
  •  pipe dream
  •  nether world
  •  nullity
  •  blockout
  •  penitentiary
  •  restraint
  •  imprisonment
  •  pen
  •  forgetfulness
  •  durance
  •  lack of certainty
  •  nothingness
  •  abandonment
  •  extinction
  •  incarceration
  •  cage
  •  infernal region
  •  darkness
  •  inattention
  •  delusive contentment
  •  void
  •  twilight
  •  chimera
  •  castle in the air
  •  custody
  •  lower world
  •  obscurities
  •  oblivion
  •  hell
  •  holding pattern
  •  on the shelf
  •  abaddon
  •  anonymity
  •  blank
  •  waiting path
  •  underworld
  •  doubt
  •  amnesia
  •  short memory
  •  hypomnesia
  •  uncertainties
  •  duress
  •  jail
  •  nonexistence
  •  gehenna
  •  insecurity
  •  nihility
  •  question
  •  entombment

There are also a number of words that mean the opposite of the word limbo. These are called antonyms, which are another great tool to have in your English language arsenal if you are looking to grow your vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word limbo is also provided by Power Thesaurus

  •  sky
  •  happiness
  •  credence
  •  constancy
  •  clarity
  •  never never land
  •  paradise
  •  photographic memory
  •  composure
  •  confidence
  •  doubtlessness
  •  reliance
  •  surety
  •  never-never land
  •  resurrection
  •  elysium
  •  serenity
  •  assurance
  •  unconcern
  •  peace
  •  trust
  •  decisiveness
  •  positiveness
  •  appearance
  •  harmony
  •  day in the sun
  •  calm
  •  self-assuredness
  •  certainty
  •  credulity
  •  definiteness
  •  commitment
  •  certitude
  •  aplomb
  •  backbone
  •  belief
  •  poise
  •  heaven
  •  self-trust
  •  credit
  •  gentle reminder
  •  bliss
  •  self-confidence
  •  survey
  •  fame
  •  redeem
  •  truth
  •  contentment
  •  demonstrability
  •  finality
  •  security
  •  calmness
  •  conviction
  •  sureness
  •  zion
  •  assuredness
  •  fact
  •  ease
  •  boldness
  •  self-assurance
  •  faith
  •  reliability
  •  celebrity

Overall, the word limbo means an in between state where you do not know what will happen next. Limbo also refers to a dance.


  1. Limbo Meaning | Best 14 Definitions of Limbo | Your Dictionary 
  2. limbo: meaning, origin, translation |  Word Sense
  3. Limbo synonyms – 623 Words and Phrases for Limbo | Power Thesaurus 
  4. Limbo antonyms – 63 Opposites of Limbo | Power Thesaurus