dec·​i·​mate ˈde-sə-ˌmāt How to pronounce decimate (audio)
decimated; decimating

transitive verb

: to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
decimate a regiment
: to exact a tax of 10 percent from
poor as a decimated CavalierJohn Dryden
: 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
: to cause great destruction or harm to
firebombs decimated the city
an industry decimated by recession
decimation noun

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. The word comes from Latin decem, meaning "ten." Decimate strayed from its "tenth" meaning and nowadays refers to the act of destroying or hurting something in great numbers.

Examples of decimate in a Sentence

This kind of moth is responsible for decimating thousands of trees in our town. Budget cuts have decimated public services in small towns.
Recent Examples on the Web The rise of these social-media giants—and the industry-wide shift to prioritizing mobile experiences—decimated BlackPlanet’s numbers in the years after it was acquired. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, 12 Apr. 2024 However, Hank eventually found his wife and kids, took them back to Vault 32 and decimated Shady Sands. Jordan Moreau, Variety, 12 Apr. 2024 Bettmann Archive/Getty Images The Unification Church’s focus on donations has intensified as family infighting has decimated its coffers. TIME, 4 Apr. 2024 Climate & Environment Starvation has decimated gray whales off the Pacific Coast. Lila Seidman, Los Angeles Times, 29 Mar. 2024 Last year’s Hollywood strikes underscored fears of AI decimating industry jobs. Kylie Robison, Fortune, 28 Mar. 2024 Were groves of palm trees decimated to create systems for rolling the giant stone carvings from quarry to coastline, where most of them have sat for many hundreds of years? Daniel Lewis, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 Mar. 2024 The population of this species was decimated as sawfish were captured in fishery bycatches, Brame said. Julia Jacobo, ABC News, 29 Mar. 2024 There is no blood to speak of in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, apart from a brief, partial shot of a spatter on a deceased human under rubble after an outpost of Monarch — the agency that keeps watch over the monsters — is decimated by a creature. Tim Lammers, Forbes, 28 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'decimate.' 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 decimatus, past participle of decimare, from decimus tenth, from decem ten

First Known Use

1660, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of decimate was in 1660


Dictionary Entries Near decimate

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


dec·​i·​mate ˈdes-ə-ˌmāt How to pronounce decimate (audio)
decimated; decimating
: to pick by lot and kill every tenth man of
the Roman army would decimate a legion for cowardice
: to destroy a large part of
a population decimated by an epidemic
decimation noun

More from Merriam-Webster on decimate

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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