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Middle English, Old French hospital, modern French hôpital, < medieval Latin hospitāle place of reception for guests, neuter singular of hospitālis (see hospital adj.). Of this word, hostel n. and hotel n. are doublets, and spital n. an aphetized form

During the Middle Ages hospitals served different functions to modern institutions, being almshouses for the poor, hostels for pilgrims, or hospital schools. The word hospital comes from the Latin hospes, signifying a stranger or foreigner, hence a guest. Another noun derived from this, hospitium came to signify hospitality, that is the relation between guest and shelterer, hospitality, friendliness, hospitable reception. By metonymy the Latin word then came to mean a guest-chamber, guest's lodging, an inn. Hospes is thus the root for the English words host (where the p was dropped for convenience of pronunciation) hospitality, hospice, hostel and hotel. The latter modern word derives from Latin via the ancient French romance word hostel, which developed a silent s, which letter was eventually removed from the word, the loss of which is signified by a circumflex in the modern French word hôtel. The German word 'Spital' shares similar roots.


  • 1: A house or hostel for the reception and entertainment of pilgrims, travellers, and strangers; a hospice. Hence, one of the establishments of the Knights Hospitallers.
  • 2.a.A charitable institution for the housing and maintenance of the needy; an asylum for the destitute, infirm, or aged.
b. A house for the corporate lodging of students in a university; a hostel or hall.
  • 3: An institution or establishment for the care of the sick or wounded, or of those who require medical treatment.


A hospital, in the modern sense, is an institution for health care providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment, and often, but not always providing for longer-term patient stays. Its historical meaning, until relatively recent times, was "a place of hospitality", for example the Chelsea Royal Hospital, established in 1681 to house veteran soldiers.

Today, hospitals are usually funded by the public sector, by health organizations (for profit or nonprofit), health insurance companies or charities, including by direct charitable donations. Historically, however, hospitals were often founded and funded by religious orders or charitable individuals and leaders. Conversely, modern-day hospitals are largely staffed by professional physicians, surgeons, and nurses, whereas in history, this work was usually performed by the founding religious orders or by volunteers. [1]