at·​ten·​u·​ate | \ ə-ˈten-yə-ˌwāt How to pronounce attenuate (audio) , -yü-ˌāt How to pronounce attenuate (audio) \
attenuated; attenuating

Definition of attenuate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to lessen the amount, force, magnitude, or value of : weaken … shows great skill in the use of language to moderate or attenuate the impact of awkward facts.— Bernard Lewis
2 : to reduce the severity, virulence, or vitality of an attenuated virus
3 : to make thin or slender Glass can be attenuated into fibers.
4 : to make thin in consistency : rarefy attenuate oil by heating it

intransitive verb

: to become thin, fine, or less


at·​ten·​u·​ate | \ ə-ˈten-yə-wət How to pronounce attenuate (audio) , -yü-ət\

Definition of attenuate (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : reduced especially in thickness, density, or force the attenuate limbs of a starving person
2 : tapering gradually usually to a long slender point attenuate leaves

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Other Words from attenuate


attenuation \ ə-​ˌten-​yə-​ˈwā-​shən How to pronounce attenuation (audio) , -​yü-​ˈā-​ How to pronounce attenuation (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?


Attenuate ultimately comes from a combination of the Latin prefix ad-, meaning "to" or "toward," and tenuis, meaning "thin." It has been on the medical scene since the 16th century, when a health treatise recommended eating dried figs to attenuate bodily fluids. That treatment might be outmoded nowadays, but attenuate is still used in medicine to refer to procedures that weaken a pathogen or reduce the severity of a disease. Most often, though, attenuate implies that something has been reduced or weakened by physical or chemical means. You can attenuate wire by drawing it through successively smaller holes, or attenuate gold by hammering it into thin sheets. You can even attenuate the momentum of a play by including too many costume changes.

Examples of attenuate in a Sentence


Earplugs will attenuate the loud sounds of the machinery. an investment attenuated by significant inflation over the years

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

At some stage the influences that have pushed down yields will attenuate, even if this is not soon. The Economist, "The long-term decline in bond yields enters a new phase," 5 June 2019 Even tiny cracks in the weather-proofing around cables can allow water molecules to embed in the strands and attenuate the signal. Rob Goodier, Popular Mechanics, "How Climate Change Could Break the Internet," 19 July 2018 If tollways are a part of your daily commute, be aware that JLR uses a solar-attenuating coating on the windshield to block UV. Eric Bangeman, Ars Technica, "A sports car in SUV clothing: The Jaguar E-Pace reviewed," 28 June 2018 The signal saturates and attenuates much more quickly. Jason Samenow, Washington Post, "‘Scariest flight of my life’: Hail smashes nose of plane that flew into towering storm," 5 June 2018 Mindfulness gurus often begin from the assumption that our mental capacities have been warped and attenuated by the distractions of our age. Gabriel Winant, The New Republic, "Barbara Ehrenreich’s radical critique of wellness and self-improvement," 23 May 2018 The new data suggests that while rebates have helped to rein in prescription drug spending, the effect will attenuate over the next decade. Washington Post, "The Health 202: Alex Azar's first big test: Will he enforce Obamacare?," 15 Feb. 2018 And for his part, Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, had initially tried attenuating publicity altogether, filing to move the case to federal court where it could be arbitrated out of the press glare. Joe Hagan, The Hive, "“The President May Be Able to Fire Mueller, but He Can’t Fire Me”: Stormy Daniels’s Attorney Relishes His Role as Trump Nemesis du Jour," 23 Mar. 2018 The objective is to attenuate the body's response to new calorie restriction and/or exercise, and thereby even up the starting points. David Prologo, Washington Post, "There are real, and difficult, biological reasons why it’s hard to lose weight," 6 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'attenuate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of attenuate


1530, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 3


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for attenuate

Adjective and Verb

Middle English attenuat, from Latin attenuatus, past participle of attenuare to make thin, from ad- + tenuis thin — more at thin

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Statistics for attenuate

Last Updated

14 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for attenuate

The first known use of attenuate was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for attenuate



English Language Learners Definition of attenuate

formal : to make (something) weaker or less in amount, effect, or force


transitive verb
at·​ten·​u·​ate | \ ə-ˈten-yə-ˌwāt How to pronounce attenuate (audio) \
attenuated; attenuating

Medical Definition of attenuate

: to reduce the severity of (a disease) or virulence or vitality of (a pathogenic agent) a procedure to attenuate severe diabetes attenuated bacilli

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More from Merriam-Webster on attenuate

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with attenuate

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for attenuate

Britannica English: Translation of attenuate for Arabic Speakers

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