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 Local news has been hit particularly hard; alt-weeklies and small and midsize papers have been decimated. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Is Email the Future of Journalism?," 25 May 2020 Ridership has been decimated, and public transit could face a stigma if and when the economy reopens, with people afraid to ride due to risks of exposure to the virus. oregonlive, "TriMet’s paratransit contractor laid off nearly 300 employees, then cut health care," 2 May 2020 The world of restaurants and bars is being decimated by COVID-19. Alia Akkam, SELF, "What It’s Like to Bartend at the ‘World’s Best Bar’ During the Pandemic," 27 Apr. 2020 Similarly, tourism was decimated by travel restrictions and the state of emergency measures. Abigail Leonard / Tokyo, Time, "This Japanese Island Lifted Its Coronavirus Lockdown Too Soon and Became a Warning to the World," 24 Apr. 2020 Our daily routines, for the most part, have been decimated. Marie Southard Ospina, Allure, "It’s OK If Your Body Changes During Quarantine," 10 Apr. 2020 Well, they’ve been decimated at the receiver position. Nathan Brown, Indianapolis Star, "Monday Night Football's Booger McFarland on Colts' days, the Superdome in December & more," 13 Dec. 2019 Sea cucumber populations have been decimated across Latin America as a result. Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, "International sea cucumber kingpin implicated in new smuggling case," 9 Dec. 2019 Wood, whose career was decimated by injuries, was unable to force his way onto the field last fall even after UK's top three quarterbacks were sidelined with injury. Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal, "Transfers pave way for Kentucky football to reach 85-man scholarship limit," 4 May 2020

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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Statistics for decimate

Last Updated

28 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 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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