civ·i·lize | \ ˈsi-və-ˌlīz \
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

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 The city and the waterfront corporation need to take a more active role in civilizing Delaware Avenue. Inga Saffron,, "Will a new riverfront concert venue close the gap between Fishtown and the Delaware - or widen it?," 28 June 2018 By 1912, the vast majority of states had adopted practices intended to civilize voting. Kate Keller, Smithsonian, "Why Are There Laws That Restrict What People Can Wear to the Polls?," 15 June 2018 Down a flight of stairs, away from the cars, the riverwalk was designed as a refuge from the hubbub, a civilizing force in the urban push and jangle. Mary Schmich,, "Let's not wreck our riverwalk by letting it become a waterfront frat party," 17 May 2018 For nearly a hundred years the English and American Churches have been striving to civilize and Christianize Western Africa, and with what result? Noel Rae, Time, "How Christian Slaveholders Used the Bible to Justify Slavery," 23 Feb. 2018 Harsh as the surrounding environment is, the building single-handedly civilizes this corner. Inga Saffron,, "These two new Philadelphia apartment buildings are civilizing the Vine Street Expressway," 4 Apr. 2018 The mission to civilize some in the NFL has obviously fallen on deaf ears. Herbie Teope,, "Saints bringing in Muhammad Wilkerson on free-agent visit: source," 8 Mar. 2018 Such road diets aren’t novel as an effort to civilize urban thoroughfares. Kevin Spear,, "Curry Ford Road experiment will squeeze car lanes for bike lanes," 27 Feb. 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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Phrases Related to civilize

civilized world

Statistics for civilize

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Time Traveler for civilize

The first known use of civilize was in 1595

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More Definitions for civilize



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 \
civilized; civilizing

Kids Definition of civilize

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

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Comments on civilize

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


alleviating pain or harshness

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