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 But best of all, proper breathing is a powerful way to combat stress, relieve anxiety and ease depression — states that can decimate workers’ abilities to perform on the job. Bija Bennett, Rolling Stone, 16 Sep. 2021 Flames from a wildfire are lapping at the Giant Forest and threatening to decimate some of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times, 16 Sep. 2021 By the time Tanner returned to Michigan in the fall of 1964, decades of commercial overfishing and the lamprey invasion had combined to decimate Huron and Michigan's lake trout population. Dan Egan,, 2 Sep. 2021 State entomologists will next make plans to eradicate the nest, in part because the invasive insects can decimate entire hives of honeybees. CBS News, 20 Aug. 2021 Scientists are concerned with these hornets because of their ability to decimate entire honeybee populations in a matter of hours. Elizabeth Gamillo, Smithsonian Magazine, 17 Aug. 2021 As smartphones became more secure and reliable, running on desktop-grade chip systems and featuring cameras good enough to decimate the digital camera market, each new iteration of a phone seemed, well, iterative. Lauren Goode, Wired, 13 Aug. 2021 Though swarms of insects may bring biblical themes to mind, these grasshoppers didn't decimate the area's vegetation. Dustin Barnes, USA TODAY, 10 July 2018 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

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

24 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 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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