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 Cavalier John 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.

Example Sentences

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 Heading into the second half, the chemistry and sense of execution both teams started with seemed to decimate. Marlee Zanna Thompson, The Arizona Republic, 7 Aug. 2022 Napster was the scourge of the music industry in the ‘00s, when its peer-to-peer file-sharing software helped decimate record sales. Mark Sutherland, Variety, 30 June 2022 Four months later, with Covid-19 threatening to decimate the airline industry, the A.F.A.’s campaign slowed down. Jennifer Gonnerman, The New Yorker, 23 May 2022 As the story approaches its climax, the Avengers have been forced to decimate countless other Earths as the Multiverse has shrunk to just two Earths, and then… well, to say any more would be to spoil the story. Graeme Mcmillan, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 May 2022 Two years ago, the pandemic was forecast to decimate state budgets — but instead, many states are enjoying a rebound in tax revenue due to the economic recovery. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 24 Mar. 2022 And in Cullen’s case, this was 17 years before COVID-19 would decimate the already dwindling number of nurses. Lindsay Lee Wallace, Time, 27 Oct. 2022 Such a view, if adopted by the court, could decimate the photography industry, replied Washington attorney Lisa S. Blatt, who represents celebrity photographer Lynn Goldsmith. Los Angeles Times, 12 Oct. 2022 Trapping them could potentially force a surrender, allow Ukraine to decimate them or force them to flee. Daniel Michaels, WSJ, 3 Sep. 2022 See More

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.

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 26 Nov. 2022.

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
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.