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, cripple, 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

cripple implies causing a serious loss of functioning power through damaging or removing an essential part or element.

crippled by arthritis

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

disabled by an injury sustained at work

Example Sentences

The virus debilitates the body's immune system. the heart surgery debilitated the college athlete beyond his worst fears
Recent Examples on the Web Threats of a railroad strike that could debilitate the economy linger after one of the country's largest railroad unions rejected its deal with freight railroads Monday. Nicole Fallert, USA TODAY, 12 Oct. 2022 Taking out the leadership of the railway would debilitate the nation’s primary transportation network and, therefore, the entire country. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, 8 Sep. 2022 This Investigation Discovery show will delight true crime fanatics but may debilitate those with trust issues. Briana Richert,, 11 July 2022 Burnout, if left unattended, can debilitate our mental, physical and emotional health. J. Gerald Suarez, USA TODAY, 15 June 2022 The ministry said Moscow could be expected to continue bombarding the region from the air to debilitate Ukrainian air defenses as Russia builds up forces on the ground. New York Times, 21 Apr. 2022 Chinese defense officials say the SJ-21 is meant to dispose of space debris, but US Space Command says the same arm can debilitate or disable rival satellites. Khari Johnson, Wired, 15 Mar. 2022 Republicans view the Democrats’ legislative plans as an overreach of excess spending and have accused Mr. Biden of careening from one crisis to another, saying both will debilitate the party’s midterm message next year. Ken Thomas, WSJ, 1 Oct. 2021 The flu does not knock you down and debilitate you like COVID-19. Claire Thornton, USA TODAY, 8 Aug. 2021 See More

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

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 30 Nov. 2022.

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!

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.