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


verb, de·volve \di-ˈvälv, -ˈvȯlv, dē-\

Simple Definition of devolve

  • : to gradually go from an advanced state to a less advanced state

  • : to pass (responsibility, power, etc.) from one person or group to another person or group at a lower level of authority

  • : to be given to someone after the owner has died

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of devolve


  1. transitive verb
  2. :  to pass on (as responsibility, rights, or powers) from one person or entity to another <devolving to western Europe full responsibility for its own defense — Christopher Lane>

  3. intransitive verb
  4. 1 a :  to pass by transmission or succession <the estate devolved on a distant cousin> b :  to fall or be passed usually as a responsibility or obligation <the responsibility for breadwinning has devolved increasingly upon women — Barbara Ehrenreich>

  5. 2 :  to come by or as if by flowing down <his allegedly subversive campaigns…devolve from his belief in basic American rights — Frank Deford>

  6. 3 :  to degenerate through a gradual change or evolution <where order devolves into chaos — Johns Hopkins Magazine>

Examples of devolve in a sentence

  1. She cynically asserts that our species is devolving.

  2. Somehow the debate devolved into a petty competition to see who could get more applause.

  3. Community leaders hope that the new government will devolve more power to the community itself.

  4. Responsibility has devolved to the individual teachers.

Did You Know?

Devolve evolved from a combination of Latin volvere, a word that means "to roll," and the prefix de-, meaning "down." (Other words that revolve around "volvere" are the five other words containing "-vol-" found in this paragraph.) Knowing which preposition to use with "devolve" can seem a bit involved, but it's really not all that convoluted. Responsibility or rights devolve "on," "upon," or "to" someone. When something comes into a present state by flowing down from a source, either literally or figuratively, we say "devolve from," as in "customs that devolve from old beliefs." And when the devolving is a downward evolution to a lower state we say "devolves into" (or sometimes "devolves to"), as in "order devolves into chaos."

Origin of devolve

Middle English, from Latin devolvere, from de- + volvere to roll — more at voluble

First Known Use: 15th century

Rhymes with devolve

Law Dictionary


intransitive verb de·volve \di-ˈvȯlv, -ˈvälv\

Legal Definition of devolve


  1. 1 :  to pass by transfer or succession <the estate devolved to a distant cousin>

  2. 2 :  to fall or be passed usually as an obligation or responsibility <in case of the removal of the President from office, or of his…inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President — U.S. Constitution art. II>

Origin of devolve

Medieval Latin devolvi, passive of devolvere to roll down, from Latin, from de down, away + volvere to roll

Seen and Heard

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


to dishevel or rumple

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

soothe reduce perplex disapprove
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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