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

Definition of civilize

transitive verb

1 : 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

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Other Words from civilize

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web So why not spend it in the civilizing thrall of great art? Marley Marius, Vogue, "16 Art Exhibitions Worth Escaping to This Holiday Season," 25 Oct. 2019 In their efforts to civilize the workplace, however, Roosevelt and his allies didn’t set up a new institution for workers to speak through. Caleb Crain, The New Yorker, "State of the Unions," 19 Aug. 2019 In one interpretation, the Law of the Jungle is the Raj, and the Monkey People are the hapless Indians whom the British came to civilize. Charles Mcgrath, The New Yorker, "Rudyard Kipling in America," 1 July 2019 Schools are usually the last chance to civilize children if their family has failed to do so. WSJ, "Notable & Quotable: School Discipline," 21 Dec. 2018 Crusoe keeps Friday as a servant, implying that the best way to civilize a savage is to subordinate him. Pallavi Kottamasu,, "Were cannibals really so bad?," 2 June 2018 Even Bogle noticed how eccentrically civilized the country felt: spacious and calm without being actually empty. Lawrence Osborne, Town & Country, "Why Everyone Is Traveling to Bhutan," 30 Mar. 2015 In its little, domestic world, writing civilized the middle-class home. Williams avoids Jane Austen, on the reasonable ground that a lot has already been done on her. John Sutherland, New York Times, "We Are What We Read," 2 Jan. 2018 The legislation reads like a 19th century missionary enterprise, a colonial experiment to civilize the brown folks. Amro Ali, Time, "Denmark’s “Ghetto” Policies Are an Ominous Sign That Liberal Europe Is Starting to Unravel at the Seams," 3 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'civilize.' 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 civilize

1595, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

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Time Traveler for civilize

Time Traveler

The first known use of civilize was in 1595

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Cite this Entry

“Civilize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.

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More Definitions for civilize


How to pronounce civilize (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of civilize

: to teach (a person or group of people) to behave in a way that you think is more polite and gentle
: to make (something) more gentle, fair, reasonable, etc.
: to cause (a group of people) to have a more highly organized and modern way of living


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

Kids Definition of civilize

: to cause to have a more advanced or modern way of living

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