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

Definition of decimate

transitive verb

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
3a : 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

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Other Words from decimate

decimation \ ˌde-​sə-​ˈmā-​shən How to pronounce decimation (audio) \ 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. 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.

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 During the 2017 awards-season campaign for the film, DuVernay enlisted Hussle as a panelist to offer his perspective on how the for-profit prison system was decimating inner-city communities. Tatiana Siegel, The Hollywood Reporter, "Nipsey Hussle Doc From Ava DuVernay Lands at Netflix," 11 Feb. 2020 Huffman had four players in double figures and coach Stephan Ward earned his 300th win in decimating Shades Valley in tonight’s Class 6A Area 10 tournament final. Evan Dudley, al, "Huffman dominates, beats Shades Valley in area tourney," 8 Feb. 2020 This will be the U.S. territory’s biggest test since being decimated by Hurricane Maria two years ago. Chris Morris, Fortune, "Tropical Storm Dorian Could Become the First Notable Hurricane of 2019," 28 Aug. 2019 But in Florida, where the pythons were originally imported as pets, officials are scrambling to keep 20-foot, 200-pound snakes from decimating local animal populations. Marion Renault, New York Times, "This Carnivorous Plant Invaded New York. That May Be Its Only Hope.," 13 Aug. 2019 However, Messi's efforts all turned out to be in vain, as Jurgen Klopp's side shocked the football world by decimating Barça 4-0 in the return leg at Anfield., "Lionel Messi's Free-Kick Against Liverpool Voted Champions League Goal of the Tournament," 4 June 2019 The industry is also facing a crisis as the African Swine Fever epidemic has decimated pork supplies around the world, killing nearly a quarter of all pigs globally since August 2018. Washington Post, "Impossible Foods is finally making a new fake meat: Pork," 7 Jan. 2020 And while injuries decimated various parts of the roster, the offense and the bullpen remained among the best in baseball, overcoming any deficiencies in the starting rotation or on defense. James Wagner, New York Times, "Yankees Win the A.L. East for the First Time Since 2012," 19 Sep. 2019 Humberto resurfaced feelings of terror for Dorian survivors -- just two weeks after the Category 5 storm decimated much of Grand Bahamas and Abaco Islands. Dianne Gallagher, CNN, "Hurricane Dorian survivors spared by Humberto still face an uncertain future," 16 Sep. 2019

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.

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First Known Use of decimate

1660, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for decimate

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

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Time Traveler for decimate

Time Traveler

The first known use of decimate was in 1660

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Last Updated

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for decimate


How to pronounce decimate (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of decimate

: to destroy a large number of (plants, animals, people, etc.)
: to severely damage or destroy a large part of (something)


dec·​i·​mate | \ ˈde-sə-ˌmāt \
decimated; decimating

Kids Definition of decimate

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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