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 Fire is unlike anything else: a luminous, shape-shifting element that decimates everything in its way. Laura Mallonee, Wired, "Wildfire Photographs Are Constant Reminders of Chaos," 18 Feb. 2020 Last year wasn’t quite as strong for Brazil, with soybean exports slipping amid an outbreak of African swine fever that decimated pig herds in China, cutting demand for soybean meal used as animal feed. Feliz Solomon, WSJ, "U.S.-China Trade War Reshaped Global Commerce," 9 Feb. 2020 In the first month of the year, Australia saw significant drought and the worst wildfires in its history, which decimated native wildlife and produced about 900 million metric tons of carbon emissions. Natasha Frost, Quartz, "As coronavirus looms, Australian politicians encourage domestic tourism instead," 2 Feb. 2020 But the Spotlight team digs deep into his tumultuous relationship with his father, the University of Florida system that enabled players’ bad behavior and finally, a sport that decimates athletes physically and mentally. Eliana Dockterman, Time, "The 50 Best Podcasts to Listen to Right Now," 20 Dec. 2019 That nears a record low of 71 recorded in 1976, just after a ban on live capture of the orcas that decimated their population in the 1960s and ‘70s. Jamie Hale | The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, "Grandmother orcas help their struggling pods survive," 10 Dec. 2019 Trade tariffs and African swine fever, which has decimated half of China's pig population, have people worried. Laura Reiley,, "Ham for the holidays: Your Thanksgiving is safe despite a global pork shortage," 26 Nov. 2019 Without sufficient intervention from constituencies that love and respect the species, game animals can fall prey to the habitat loss that has decimated most of the bird species that Rosenberg and his colleagues studied. Jordan Sillars, National Review, "Killing Animals to Save Them? Hunting as Conservation," 23 Nov. 2019 This event has been ultimately linked to the Black Death that decimated Europe in the following years. Ana Santos Rutschman, The Conversation, "Salad bars and water systems are easy targets for bioterrorists – and America’s monitoring system is woefully inadequate," 7 Nov. 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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Statistics for decimate

Last Updated

19 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Mar. 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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