Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


verb de·grade \di-ˈgrād, dē-\

Simple Definition of degrade

  • : to treat (someone or something) poorly and without respect

  • : to make the quality of (something) worse

  • : to cause (something complex) to break down into simple substances or parts

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of degrade

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 a :  to lower in grade, rank, or status :  demote b :  to strip of rank or honors c :  to lower to an inferior or less effective level <degrade the image quality> d :  to scale down in desirability or salability

  3. 2 a :  to bring to low esteem or into disrepute <his actions have degraded his profession> b :  to drag down in moral or intellectual character :  corrupt

  4. 3 :  to impair in respect to some physical property <material degraded by exposure to sunlight>

  5. 4 :  to wear down by erosion

  6. 5 :  to reduce the complexity of (a chemical compound) :  decompose

  7. intransitive verb
  8. 1 :  to pass from a higher grade or class to a lower

  9. 2 of a chemical compound :  to become reduced in complexity

degrader noun
degradingly play \-ˈgrā-diŋ-lē\ adverb

Examples of degrade in a sentence

  1. The group accuses the company of degrading women in its ads.

  2. He felt degraded by their remarks.

  3. Scratches on a camera lens will degrade the image.

  4. Pollution has degraded air quality.

Origin of degrade

Middle English, from Anglo-French degrader, from Late Latin degradare, from Latin de- + gradus step, grade — more at grade

First Known Use: 14th century

DEGRADE Defined for Kids


verb de·grade \di-ˈgrād\

Definition of degrade for Students


  1. 1 :  to lower in character or dignity <Mom feels that dressing animals in costumes degrades them.>

  2. 2 :  to break down or separate into simpler parts or substances <Bacteria will degrade the spilled pollutant.>

  3. 3 :  to reduce from a higher to a lower rank or degree <He was degraded to a private by his commander.>

Word Root of degrade

The Latin word gradus, meaning “step” or “degree,” gives us the root grad. Words from the Latin gradus have something to do with steps. Anything gradual happens slowly one step at a time. To degrade is to reduce from a higher to a lower degree. A grade is a step in school made up of one year of work. Even the word degree itself has gradus as its root.

Medical Dictionary


verb de·grade \di-ˈgrād\

Medical Definition of degrade

degraded; degrading

  1. :  to reduce the complexity of (a chemical compound) by splitting off one or more groups or larger components :  decompose <cellulose is degraded by the action of some bacteria>

  2. intransitive verb

  3. :  to undergo chemical degradation

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up degrade? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to expose to danger or risk

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.