de·​bil·​i·​tate di-ˈbi-lə-ˌtāt How to pronounce debilitate (audio)
debilitated; debilitating

transitive verb

: to impair the strength of : enfeeble
sailors debilitated by scurvy
an economy debilitated by years of civil war
debilitation noun

Did you know?

Debilitate, enfeeble, undermine, and sap all share the general sense "to weaken." But while debilitate holds the distinction among these words of coming from the Latin word for "weak"—debilis—it packs a potent punch. Often used of disease or something that strikes like a disease or illness, debilitate might suggest a temporary impairment—but a pervasive one at that. Enfeeble, a very close synonym of debilitate, connotes a pitiable, but often reversible, condition of weakness and helplessness. Undermine and sap suggest a weakening by something working surreptitiously and insidiously.

Choose the Right Synonym for debilitate

weaken, enfeeble, debilitate, undermine, sap, disable mean to lose or cause to lose strength or vigor.

weaken may imply loss of physical strength, health, soundness, or stability or of quality, intensity, or effective power.

a disease that weakens the body's defenses

enfeeble implies a condition of marked weakness and helplessness.

enfeebled by starvation

debilitate suggests a less marked or more temporary impairment of strength or vitality.

the debilitating effects of surgery

undermine and sap suggest a weakening by something working surreptitiously and insidiously.

a poor diet undermines your health
drugs had sapped his ability to think

disable suggests bringing about impairment or limitation in a physical or mental ability.

disabled by an injury sustained at work

Examples of debilitate in a Sentence

The virus debilitates the body's immune system. the heart surgery debilitated the college athlete beyond his worst fears
Recent Examples on the Web The reality star admitted that the turning point in her health journey was in 2021 when a debilitating bout of tendonitis left her on the floor of her basement gym during her daily run on the treadmill. Vanessa Etienne, Peoplemag, 8 May 2024 In some cases, this can cause Lyme disease, a syndrome with uncomfortable, gnarly, and sometimes debilitating symptoms that can affect the body in wide-ranging ways. Julia Sullivan, SELF, 6 May 2024 Near the end of last year, the Food and Drug Administration gave two companies authorization to sell gene therapy to people with sickle cell disease — a genetic disorder of red blood cells that causes debilitating pain and other medical problems. Gina Kolata Kenny Holston, New York Times, 6 May 2024 These challenges do not have to be permanently debilitating to the health care industry. Bj Schaknowski, Fortune, 6 May 2024 Also last year, Bangladesh succeeded in stamping out lymphatic filariasis, a debilitating parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Charlie Campbell, TIME, 2 May 2024 Other treatments like radiation and surgery can leave patients with lifelong debilitating side effects. John Ligon, The Conversation, 1 May 2024 One client, a skilled worker who suffered a debilitating fall from heights, received a multi-million dollar settlement thanks to GGL's tireless efforts. Chris Gallagher, USA TODAY, 18 Apr. 2024 Dubai authorities issued a stay-at-home advisory for a second day, ordering employees and students to work remotely due to the debilitating storms. The Arizona Republic, 18 Apr. 2024

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

Word History


Latin debilitatus, past participle of debilitare to weaken, from debilis weak

First Known Use

1533, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of debilitate was in 1533


Dictionary Entries Near debilitate

Cite this Entry

“Debilitate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


de·​bil·​i·​tate di-ˈbil-ə-ˌtāt How to pronounce debilitate (audio)
debilitated; debilitating
: to reduce the strength of : weaken
debilitation noun

Medical Definition


transitive verb
de·​bil·​i·​tate di-ˈbil-ə-ˌtāt How to pronounce debilitate (audio)
debilitated; debilitating
: to impair the strength of
a body debilitated by disease
debilitation noun

More from Merriam-Webster on debilitate

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!