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 The opening of the latter sees an apocalyptic event seemingly decimate New York City in 1992, but the television show’s New York has been left unscathed since the squid attack of 1985, despite an understandable drop in tourism since. Graeme Mcmillan, Wired, "The World of Watchmen Ended Twice This Week," 18 Dec. 2019 Across less than five minutes, director Rian Johnson crafts a compact tale of sacrifice in war, as Paige scrambles to drop a payload of bombs on a First Order starship after the rest of her fleet is decimated, even at the cost of her own life. Tyler Aquilina,, "Our 10 favorite minor Star Wars characters," 12 Dec. 2019 In the final passages, Ozymandias decimates New York with an attack designed to look like an alien-squid invasion—his aim is to avert nuclear war by unifying the United States and the U.S.S.R. against an imaginary foe. Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker, "The Incendiary Aims of HBO’s “Watchmen”," 2 Dec. 2019 At the same time, automation, globalization and the decline of manufacturing have decimated well-paying jobs that once required no more than a high school diploma. Kevin Quealy, New York Times, "Watch 4 Decades of Inequality Drive American Cities Apart," 2 Dec. 2019 Have the fires really decimated 80 percent of koala habitat? National Geographic, "No, koalas aren't 'functionally extinct'—yet," 25 Nov. 2019 Injuries once again decimated MSU’s offensive line, a pattern the past two years. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan State football: What we learned at Rutgers, what to watch for Senior Day," 24 Nov. 2019 Second, the Chargers receiving corps is so badly decimated that Ekeler might need to play slot receiver on Sunday. Dr. Roto,, "Week 5 Visionary Plays: Bold Fantasy and DFS Predictions," 4 Oct. 2019 This private high school was founded in the 1380s to prepare scholars for Oxford University after the Black Plague had decimated the previous generation. Washington Post, "A day trip to Winchester, England’s former royal capital," 18 Dec. 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

9 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 22 January 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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