The Meaning of Prodigal Son: What It Is and How To Use It

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

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What does the term prodigal son mean?

According to Christianity, the term prodigal son is a Biblical term that refers to a person who is an abuser of grace, which is unearned or unmerited favor. The prodigal son trades everything he has – a loving father, a good home, provision, a future, and an inheritance – for temporal pleasures. The parable of the prodigal son, also known as the parable of the lost son, is in the Bible in Luke 15:11-32 in the New Testament. The three parables in this chapter are directed at tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees (religious leaders), and teachers of the law. All of the three parables are focused on the topic of lost things that are later found – a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Additionally, all three of these parables teach the lesson of choosing heavenly joy over every sinner who repents from sin and turns to Jesus. 

Per Dictionary, in the story, when the prodigal son returns, he hopes that his father will hire him as a servant on his farm. No matter what he tried to do as his money ran out, including tending pigs, did not work. He had to give up and return home. Even despite his missteps, the prodigal son’s father rejoiced and ordered the fattened calf (AKA fatted calf) to be slaughtered for a feast to celebrate the son’s return. There is another older son in the story. While he was faithfully working in the fields for his father, the older brother felt angry seeing the betrayer return and would not join the celebration. The prodigal son comes home and states, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This shows repentance from the younger son, and compassion and mercy from the father, who brings out his best robe and sandals. This is meant to parallel God’s grace and forgiveness. When the younger brother comes home from a distant country of severe famine and wild living, there is great rejoicing. The story of the prodigal son is a famous parable about greed and honor that is meant to show how Jesus Christ is welcoming sinners into the presence of the angels of God.

Different languages around the world use words that mean prodigal son. In looking at this list of translations of prodigal son from Word Sense, you may notice that a lot of these look and sound similar to the word prodigal son. These are called cognates, which are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin. 

  •  Polish: syn marnotrawny‎ (masc.)
  •  Catalan: fill pròdig‎
  •  Japanese: 放蕩息子‎ (hōtō musuko)
  •  Italian: figliol prodigo‎, figlio prodigo‎
  •  Greek: άσωτος υιός‎ (masc.)
  •  Dutch: verloren zoon‎ (masc.)
  •  Portuguese: filho pródigo‎ (masc.)
  •  Danish: fortabte søn‎
  •  Spanish: hijo pródigo‎
  •  French: fils prodigue‎ (masc.)
  •  Chinese: 浪子
  •  Latvian: izšķērdīgais dēls‎ (masc.)
  •  Finnish: tuhlaajapoika‎
  •  Serbo-Croatian: izgubljeni sin‎
  •  Russian: блу́дный сын‎ (masc.)
  •  Welsh: mab afradlon‎ (masc.)
  •  Irish: mac díobhlásach‎, millteán mic‎
  •  German: verlorener Sohn‎ (masc.), Zurückkehrer‎ (masc.), Heimkehrer‎ (masc.)
  •  Hungarian: tékozló fiú‎

What are synonyms and antonyms of the word prodigal son?

There are a number of different words that a person can choose to use in place of the term prodigal son. These equivalent words are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning or definition as another given word or phrase. Learning synonyms is a great way to easily expand your English language vocabulary and help you avoid repeating yourself when writing or speaking. The below list of synonyms for the word prodigal son is provided by Power Thesaurus

  •  remorseful man
  •  dissipator
  •  repentant
  •  mischievous son
  •  freedom-loving person
  •  disobedient son
  •  big spender
  •  returnee
  •  naughty son
  •  drone
  •  wastethrift
  •  compulsive shopper
  •  disobedient child
  •  bratty man
  •  wastefully extravagant son
  •  extravagant son
  •  long lost son
  •  wastrel
  •  lost lamb
  •  bratty son
  •  freedom-loving man
  •  prodigal
  •  disobedient person
  •  liberal son
  •  confessor
  •  regretful son
  •  he responds
  •  disobedient man
  •  wanderer
  •  libertine
  •  lost son
  •  undependable person
  •  handsome son
  •  bratty child
  •  bratty person
  •  child genius
  •  good-for-nothing
  •  prodigal child
  •  unreliable person
  •  boy wonder
  •  waster
  •  missing son
  •  reckless son
  •  freedom-loving son
  •  backslider
  •  wayward son
  •  penitent
  •  prodigal daughter
  •  remorseful son
  •  lost child

There are also plenty of different words that have the opposite meaning of the term prodigal son. These opposite words are called antonyms, which are another great, quick and easy way to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms is also provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  disciplined child
  •  reliable man
  •  disciplined person
  •  responsible person
  •  unapologetic man
  •  reliable son
  •  economical man
  •  economizer
  •  impenitent man
  •  homely man
  •  disciplined man
  •  economical son
  •  homely son
  •  canny person
  •  impenitent son
  •  obedient son
  •  frugal son
  •  devoted child
  •  go-to guy
  •  responsible son
  •  mild-mannered child
  •  responsible man
  •  unapologetic son
  •  faithful man
  •  careful with money person
  •  careful with money man
  •  obedient person
  •  faithful son
  •  go-to man
  •  dedicated person
  •  faithful person
  •  unrepentant man
  •  impenitent person
  •  economical person
  •  frugal man
  •  devoted man
  •  unrepentant son
  •  dedicated son
  •  careful with money son
  •  frugal person
  •  remorseless son
  •  devoted person
  •  canny man
  •  devoted son
  •  dedicated child
  •  canny son
  •  disciplined son
  •  unrepentant person
  •  reliable person
  •  dedicated man

Overall, the term prodigal son is a parable from the Bible in which a son leaves a great life, and later returns. He thinks he will come back to hatred, but comes back to a joyous reunion. Do you know this Bible story?


  1. prodigal son: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. Prodigal Son Synonyms | Power Thesaurus
  3. Prodigal Son antonyms – 103 Opposites of Prodigal Son | Power Thesaurus 
  4. Who Was the Prodigal Son? The Meaning of This Parable | Christianity