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I came across these two expressions "be in jail" and "be sitting in jail" and I don't know what the difference in meaning is between them. I hope that someone can help me.

Here are a couple of example sentences:

  1. John was in a car accident yesterday, and he is now in jail.

  2. John was in a car accident yesterday, and he is now sitting in jail.

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There's not much difference. The first has a simple literal meaning.

The second says that he is "sitting" so we suppose that he is not doing much. He isn't standing at the bars protesting his innocence or being interviewed by the police. He isn't meeting his lawyer to plan his defence. He is just sitting there.

It isn't a particularly common phrase. There is a cliché "He is languishing in jail". To "languish" means "to fail to make progress". So this means that he is stuck in jail, can't get out, can't do anything. Your phrase has something of the same implication:

I've been sitting in jail for a week now, and I think the system has forgotten about me. The police haven't even interviewed me since Tuesday. I haven't seen my attorney since Monday. Does any one care? How much longer will I be sitting here.

So "sitting" has a rhetorical effect, but it doesn't change the basic meaning.

  • Yes, the addition of “sitting” gives the added sense that he is waiting for something or constrained from doing anything. – Orbital Aussie Jan 14 at 21:08
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John was in a car accident yesterday, and he is now in jail.

I may or may not know John. This is a simple statement.

John was in a car accident yesterday, and he is now sitting in jail.

This somewhat implies the person saying this has the power to bail him out of jail, but is choosing not to do so to teach John a lesson.

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