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verb (1)

de·​file di-ˈfī(-ə)l How to pronounce defile (audio)
defiled; defiling

transitive verb

: to make unclean or impure: such as
: to corrupt the purity or perfection of : debase
the countryside defiled by billboards
: to violate the chastity or virginity of : deflower
: to make physically unclean especially with something unpleasant or contaminating
boots defiled with blood
… I had never allowed anyone to smoke in the truck. Drunk as I was, I knew that I was betraying something by allowing him to defile the truck's interior.Patrick Moore
: to violate the sanctity of : desecrate
defile a sanctuary
went to jail for costuming themselves in the American flag and thus defiling itJames R. Gaines
: sully, dishonor
defile his reputation
defilement noun
defiler noun


2 of 3


: a narrow passage (as between hills, rocks, or cliffs) : gorge entry 1
… come to us from a narrow defile in the Pennine Alps between Switzerland and Italy, a place called the Great St. Bernard Pass.Michael Olmert


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verb (2)

defiled; defiling

intransitive verb

: to march off in a line
… breaks out into a brave and glorious description of the forces, as they defiled through the principal gate of the city …Washington Irving

Did you know?

The verb defile (unrelated to this verb defile or its related noun) has a number of uses that are all variations on the idea of making something unclean or impure. These meanings echo the word’s Middle English and Anglo-French ancestry, where defilement is connected to figurative and literal trampling. The ultimate Anglo-French root is fuller, or foller, which means “to trample under foot,” “to oppress”—or literally, “to full.” Full in this case is a technical term: when you full woolen cloth you shrink and thicken it by moistening, heating, and pressing it. Originally, the pressing part was done by trampling it with the feet.

Choose the Right Synonym for defile

contaminate, taint, pollute, defile mean to make impure or unclean.

contaminate implies intrusion of or contact with dirt or foulness from an outside source.

water contaminated by industrial wastes

taint stresses the loss of purity or cleanliness that follows contamination.

tainted meat
a politician's tainted reputation

pollute, sometimes interchangeable with contaminate, distinctively may imply that the process which begins with contamination is complete and that what was pure or clean has been made foul, poisoned, or filthy.

the polluted waters of the river

defile implies befouling of what could or should have been kept clean and pure or held sacred and commonly suggests violation or desecration.

defile a hero's memory with slanderous innuendo

Example Sentences

Noun the cattle, once they were cornered in the defile, were quickly rounded up
Recent Examples on the Web
In court, the witnesses shared wrenching stories of harassment by conspiracy theorists who believed Mr. Jones’s lies, including death and rape threats, confrontations and messages threatening to defile and dig up the victims’ graves. Elizabeth Williamson, New York Times, 12 Oct. 2022 Yet even if one were inclined to defend their tactics—and argue, for example, that the activists showed admirable restraint by choosing to defile paintings that were protected by a pane of glass—the protests still fail on their own terms. Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 27 Oct. 2022 In court, the witnesses shared wrenching stories of harassment by conspiracy theorists who believed Jones’ lies — including death and rape threats, confrontations and messages threatening to defile and dig up the victims’ graves. Elizabeth Williamson,, 13 Oct. 2022 Police charged Brevard with abduction with intent to defile in the Homewood Suites attack. Washington Post, 27 Mar. 2022 He was charged with murder, rape and abduction with the intent to defile. Steve Helling,, 17 Nov. 2021 There's little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home, but then there's disdain for pluralism and their disregard for human life, and their determination to defile national symbols. ABC News, 12 Sep. 2021 The quick answer is that seven-inning games defile the traditions of what has been America’s most-traditional game. Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune, 15 Aug. 2020 Both journeys displayed how the forest was being defiled and colonised by outsiders: rubber-seekers who bled the trees and massacred the tribes, crazed religious sects. The Economist, 28 May 2020
Almost 200 species of birds have been seen in high-walled Ramsey Canyon, a lush defile in the Huachuca Mountains south of Sierra Vista that's managed by the Nature Conservancy. Roger Naylor, The Arizona Republic, 21 Mar. 2022 Between Evergreen and Conifer Maxwell Creek slides north through a trailside defile, trembles through boulders in watery segments, and slips over black granite blocks in shimmery sheets at Maxwell Falls. Danika Worthington, The Know, 19 June 2020 The 27-year-old Woodbridge man was arrested and charged with abduction with intent to defile and burglary. Ria Manglapus And Lisa M. Bolton, Washington Post, 30 Oct. 2019 Rather than simple abduction, Fairfax prosecutors charged Hughes with abduction with intent to defile, which carried a possible maximum sentence of life in prison. Tom Jackman, Washington Post, 10 Dec. 2019 The easier higher slopes gave way below the timberline to defiles lined with tree roots and narrow ravines. Simon Akam, Outside Online, 27 Nov. 2019 From the open valley of the Río Chaschuil, the road suddenly plunged into narrow defiles where the rock was blushed with surreal mineral colors—crimson, verdigris, malachite, violet. Stanley Stewart, Condé Nast Traveler, 22 Aug. 2019 The path traces a gentle stream into a narrow defile framed by soaring cliffs. Roger Naylor, azcentral, 13 July 2018 The path traces a gentle stream into a narrow defile framed by soaring cliffs. Roger Naylor, azcentral, 13 July 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'defile.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Verb (1)

Middle English, alteration (influenced by filen to defile, from Old English fȳlan) of defoilen to trample, defile, from Anglo-French defoiller, defuler, to trample, from de- + fuller, foller to trample, literally, to full — more at full


French défilé, from past participle of défiler — see defile entry 3

Verb (2)

French défiler, from dé- de- + filer to move in a column — more at file

First Known Use

Verb (1)

15th century, in the meaning defined above


1685, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

1705, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of defile was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near defile

Cite this Entry

“Defile.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
de·​file di-ˈfī(ə)l How to pronounce defile (audio)
defiled; defiling
: to make filthy : dirty
stored grain defiled by rats
: to corrupt the purity or perfection of
defile buildings with posters
: desecrate
a shrine defiled by the invaders
: dishonor entry 2 sense 1
defiled our good name
defilement noun
defiler noun


2 of 2 noun
: a narrow passage or gorge

Legal Definition


transitive verb
de·​file di-ˈfīl How to pronounce defile (audio)
defiled; defiling
: to dishonor by physical acts (as trampling, dirtying, or mutilating)
defiling the flag
defilement noun
defiler noun

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