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 decimate (audio) \ noun

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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 In Madagascar, hunger has already left people eating raw red cactus fruits, wild leaves, even the very locusts that helped decimate crops. Washington Post, 1 July 2021 Because Crystal's complete nonchalance also has the power to decimate Sutton, and Crystal knows it. Jodi Walker,, 8 July 2021 The divergence between profit and revenue is largely due to the extraordinary conditions of the second quarter of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic appeared poised to decimate the economy. David Benoit, WSJ, 13 July 2021 Sorensen made the case to state and federal agencies on Thursday to fortify the lock and dam against the carp, which can upend ecosystems, decimate native fish and injure boaters and water-skiers by leaping out of the water. Greg Stanley, Star Tribune, 17 June 2021 Ocean and sea-dwelling herbivores eat kelp—the sea urchin, for example, can decimate kelp populations if not checked by hungry sea otters, which is why sea otters are often seen chomping away atop kelp forests. Jen Rose Smith, Vogue, 11 June 2021 The high temperatures would also decimate the eggs of fall-run chinook salmon, said Jon Rosenfield, senior scientist at the nonprofit San Francisco Baykeeper. Tara Duggan, San Francisco Chronicle, 13 May 2021 Mann, who chairs the budget and finance committee on city council, said requiring $50 million each year would decimate the city budget. Scott Wartman, The Enquirer, 1 Apr. 2021 Today over $22 billion in public funds is spent every year to further decimate our fish stocks, rob people of tens of billions of dollars in revenue, and undercut local fishing that provides jobs and food to billions of people. World Economic Forum, Forbes, 25 May 2021

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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Dictionary Entries Near decimate

decimal system



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Last Updated

12 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for decimate



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

More from Merriam-Webster on decimate

Nglish: Translation of decimate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of decimate for Arabic Speakers


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