dec·​i·​mate ˈde-sə-ˌmāt How to pronounce decimate (audio)
decimated; decimating

transitive verb

: to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
decimate a regiment
: to exact a tax of 10 percent from
poor as a decimated CavalierJohn Dryden
: 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
: to cause great destruction or harm to
firebombs decimated the city
an industry decimated by recession
decimation 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. The word comes from Latin decem, meaning "ten." Decimate strayed from its "tenth" meaning and nowadays refers to the act of destroying or hurting something in great numbers.

Example Sentences

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 Rodgers, the future Hall of Famer, has the ability to decimate the Dolphins’ pass defense. Chris Perkins, Sun Sentinel, 22 Dec. 2022 This will decimate the Russian military and end the war, and also solve the labor shortage here in the U.S. WSJ, 16 Dec. 2022 Each implement is a further opportunity to manipulate virtual matter — indeed, to decimate it. Lewis Gordon, Vulture, 2 Dec. 2022 By June, word was traveling in rural parts of the state that the bill, known as cap and trade, would decimate the timber industry. Britta Lokting, The New Republic, 23 Aug. 2022 During the third season of the show, which was filmed before her guilty plea, Shah has continued to proclaim her innocence, and has tried to decimate anyone who questions her. Kate Aurthur, Variety, 16 Dec. 2022 The Ethiopian government has been trying to defeat Tigray forces for years, using every tool of war to decimate them. Lauren Jackson, New York Times, 11 Dec. 2022 Zack can utilize a variety of flashy sword attacks and magical spells to decimate his enemies. George Yang, Rolling Stone, 6 Dec. 2022 Its growth also raised trade tensions between the United States and Japan and gave rise to popular fears that Japanese businesses would decimate American companies. New York Times, 4 Jan. 2022 See More

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.

Word History


Latin decimatus, past participle of decimare, from decimus tenth, from decem ten

First Known Use

1660, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of decimate was in 1660


Dictionary Entries Near decimate

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


dec·​i·​mate ˈdes-ə-ˌmāt How to pronounce decimate (audio)
decimated; decimating
: to pick by lot and kill every tenth man of
the Roman army would decimate a legion for cowardice
: to destroy a large part of
a population decimated by an epidemic
decimation noun

More from Merriam-Webster on decimate

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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