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 Kangaroos, parched by drought, decimated the grapes on a vineyard in Canberra. New York Times, "Saving the Fire Victims Who Cannot Flee: Australia’s Koalas," 14 Nov. 2019 Unfortunately, natural disasters and other factors have decimated the western population. Andrea Sachs, Washington Post, "From monarch butterflies to gray whales, animals are on the move. Here’s how travelers can tag along on their migratory journeys," 24 Oct. 2019 But certain habits can decimate those delicate good bacteria, throwing your microbiome out of balance and allowing the bad bacteria to take over. Deanna Pai, CNN Underscored, "How probiotics can help prevent acne, eczema and skin irritation," 22 Oct. 2019 There’s no sugarcoating just how much injuries have decimated USC’s depth over the last two weeks. Ryan Kartje, Los Angeles Times, "Serious injuries rob USC of more key players: ‘It’s going to take some time’," 21 Oct. 2019 As Sunderland explains, the Trump administration has decimated the EPA’s regulatory oversight for these types of issues. Carolyn L. Todd, SELF, "WTF Are Forever Chemicals?," 27 Sep. 2019 Deindustrialisation and incarceration have particularly decimated the prospects for black men. The Economist, "Poverty in America The best way to eradicate poverty in America is to focus on children," 25 Sep. 2019 Dams, even those with fish ladders, decimate salmon populations, as the fish make long upstream journeys to the spawning beds in which they were born in order to reproduce. Eli Francovich, The Seattle Times, "More than a viral sensation, the Salmon Cannon could bring the species back to the Upper Columbia after 90 years," 19 Aug. 2019 The disease decimated pig herds in China and other Asian countries before reaching the Koreas. Washington Post, "Fears grow in South Korea as tests confirm more swine fever," 25 Sep. 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

Time Traveler for decimate

Time Traveler

The first known use of decimate was in 1660

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about decimate

Statistics for decimate

Last Updated

27 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 10 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

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

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).


to state or do over again or repeatedly

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Semantic Drift Quiz

  • a twisty river
  • Which of the following was once a synonym for fun?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

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!