civ·​i·​lize ˈsi-və-ˌlīz How to pronounce civilize (audio)
civilized; civilizing

transitive verb

: to cause to develop out of a primitive state
especially : to bring to a technically advanced and rationally ordered stage of cultural development

intransitive verb

: to acquire the customs and amenities of a civil community
civilizer noun

Examples of civilize in a Sentence

Her parents hoped that boarding school might civilize her some. a teacher who had a civilizing influence on the students He is credited with civilizing the treatment of people with mental illnesses. efforts to civilize the health-care system They believed it was their duty to civilize the native people.
Recent Examples on the Web The transition from raw wood to finished object also speaks to traditional ideas of civilizing — something education is supposed to do — and to humans’ vast debt to nature. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, 14 July 2023 Advertisement The history of human-nonhuman relations in cities is as old as cities themselves, but urban dwellers and ecologists have often missed this story because cities are supposed to be civilized, tame, the opposite of wild. Kate Brown, Washington Post, 26 June 2023 Book Now Brigit Bakery's Classic Afternoon Tea Bus Tea is meant to be civilized, but that's not necessarily to the exclusion of some comfortable multitasking. Sarah Bray, Town & Country, 21 June 2023 Captive Africans who came here didn’t need to be civilized. John Blake, CNN, 18 June 2023 These are extreme versions of the traditional expectation in China that people be civilized by becoming Chinese. Ian Buruma, Harper's Magazine, 11 Jan. 2022 The expedition, composed of a young Chilean mestizo, an American mercenary, and led by a reckless British lieutenant, soon turns into a ‘civilizing’ raid. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 24 May 2023 Football was said to civilize. Louis Moore,, 25 Aug. 2022 While feared for their brutal conditions and cruelty, governments saw these penal colonies as ways to not only discipline prisoners, but also, says Vierba, a way of widening control by using these prisoners to take over and civilize remote territories. Laura Kiniry, Smithsonian Magazine, 5 July 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'civilize.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1595, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of civilize was in 1595

Dictionary Entries Near civilize

Cite this Entry

“Civilize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


civ·​i·​lize ˈsiv-ə-ˌlīz How to pronounce civilize (audio)
civilized; civilizing
: to raise out of a primitive state
especially : to bring to an advanced stage (as in art, science, and government) of social development
civilized adjective
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