verb dec·i·mate \ ˈde-sə-ˌmāt \
|Updated on: 10 Jul 2018

Definition of decimate

decimated; decimating
1 : to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
  • decimate a regiment
2 : to exact a tax of 10 percent from
  • poor as a decimated Cavalier
  • —John Dryden
3 a : to reduce drastically especially in number
  • cholera decimated the population
  • Kamieniecki's return comes at a crucial time for a pitching staff that has been decimated by injuries.
  • —Jason Diamos
b : to cause great destruction or harm to
  • firebombs decimated the city
  • an industry decimated by recession


play \ˌde-sə-ˈmā-shən\ noun

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Examples of decimate in a Sentence

  1. This kind of moth is responsible for decimating thousands of trees in our town.

  2. Budget cuts have decimated public services in small towns.

  3. Alexander’s ego killed more of his men in a needless trek through the Gedrosian Desert than Darius III ever did on the battlefield. That disaster and the dirty fighting in Bactria merit almost no screen time. Also omitted is Alexander's introduction to the Western world of decimation, crucifixion, and other phenomena. —“Gay Old Times?” P. 40, Victor Davis Hanson, NATIONAL REVIEW Vol. LVI No. 24, December 27, 2004

  4. Resistance attacks on German forces...often compromised a second element of Resistance operations—intelligence gathering—by focusing attention on Resistance networks and invariably leading to their decimation. —“The Myth of The French ... ” P. 99, Douglas Porch, MHQ Vol. 10 No. 2, Winter 1998

  5. Gay men in whom AIDS was diagnosed in the early years, he asserts, were not being truthful if they denied drug use. More recently, he believes, the decimation of their ranks is exacerbated by treatment with AZT (zidovudine). Mr. Duesberg feels that AZT is so toxic it should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. —“The Unbeliever” P. 8, June E. Osborn, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, April 7, 1996

  6. In the 1600s, four or five times more African slaves arrived than in the previous century. One reason was the decimation of the American Indian population. —“West Africa, the Atlantic ...” P. 13, AFRICAN AMERICANS AND CIVIL RIGHTS, Michael L. Levine, Oryx Press 973.049 L57a 1996

Recent Examples of decimate from the Web

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

Did You Know?

The connection between decimate and the number ten harks back to a brutal practice of the army of ancient Rome. A unit that was guilty of a severe crime (such as mutiny) was punished by selecting and executing one-tenth of its soldiers, thereby scaring the remaining nine-tenths into obedience. It's no surprise that the word for this practice came from Latin decem, meaning "ten." From this root we also get our word decimal and the name of the month of December, originally the tenth month of the calendar before the second king of Rome decided to add January and February. In its extended uses decimate strayed from its "tenth" meaning and nowadays refers to the act of destroying or hurting something in great numbers.

Origin and Etymology of decimate

Latin decimatus, past participle of decimare, from decimus tenth, from decem ten

DECIMATE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of decimate for English Language Learners

  • : to destroy a large number of (plants, animals, people, etc.)

  • : to severely damage or destroy a large part of (something)

DECIMATE Defined for Kids


verb dec·i·mate \ ˈde-sə-ˌmāt \

Definition of decimate for Students

decimated; decimating
1 : to destroy a large number of
  • The insects decimated thousands of trees.
2 : to severely damage or destroy a large part of

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one who attends or assists a leader

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