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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Longhorns defense got decimated by departures the last two years, and the team’s running backs have been devastated by injury. Christopher Smith, al, "Vegas releases Week 2 SEC betting lines," 1 Sep. 2019 The company, which derives most of its income from gaming, is still recovering from a nine month freeze on game approvals that began in March last year, decimating company stock. Fortune, "Fears of a Military Crackdown in Hong Kong are Overblown," 17 Aug. 2019 One key driver of that change, according to Zimov, was human hunters who decimated the herds of large grazers, by about 10,000 years ago. Katie Orlinsky, National Geographic, "Arctic permafrost is thawing fast. That affects us all.," 16 Aug. 2019 And that is to separate families and decimate communities. Globe Staff,, "Ayanna Pressley: Current American immigration system is ‘an effective tool of oppression’," 14 Aug. 2019 Ultimately, Swartz and his like-minded commissioners couldn’t stop a development machine that cranked into gear after killer freezes in the 1980s decimated citrus groves and landowners sought to convert their property to rooftops. Jerry Fallstrom,, "Ex-commissioner Richard Swartz, Clermont councilman Ray Goodgame remembered for putting their stamp on Lake County," 29 July 2019 Civil war and political unrest in the 1970s and ’80s left most wild areas unprotected, and poachers decimated animal populations throughout the country. Tom Hanscom, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Wildlife rebound in Uganda," 11 July 2019 In 1917, Russia was in the midst of a disastrous involvement with WWI, decimating the country's resources and economy. Elena Nicolaou,, "The Dramatic True Story Of Russia's Last Dynasty, The Romanovs," 5 July 2019 La Pulga has seemingly been decimating defenders for eternity, treating football as his own personal playground and redefining the very concept of being a footballer., "4 Argentina Players Who Could Replace Lionel Messi at International Level," 3 July 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about decimate

Listen to Our Podcast about decimate

Statistics for decimate

Last Updated

4 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for decimate

The first known use of decimate was in 1660

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on decimate

What made you want to look up decimate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!