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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


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: 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

Examples of defile in a Sentence

Verb (1) supplies of meat that had been defiled by maggots art conservators were careful not to do anything that might defile the holy relic Noun the cattle, once they were cornered in the defile, were quickly rounded up
Recent Examples on the Web
Will the drive to commodify ancient practices defile them? Oshan Jarow, Vox, 7 June 2024 There’s raiders defiling small communities, the remnants of governmental and military organizations (like the show’s Brotherhood of Steel) vying for control of technology and the ideological support of the masses, and small militias just looking to protect their homestead. Christopher Cruz, Rolling Stone, 12 Apr. 2024 On March 4, Harrison was indicted by a Stafford County grand jury on multiple charges, including first-degree murder, abduction with the intent to defile and aggravated malicious wounding of Lard. Kerry Breen, CBS News, 6 Mar. 2024 Nearly 20 years later, vandals dug up and defiled corpses. Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times, 27 Feb. 2024 Dorsey also defiled his cousin's body, and left with cash, his cousin's car and other property to pay off his debts. Julia Gomez, USA TODAY, 23 Jan. 2024 Aesthetically, nixing the monument will leave an entire section of what’s a beautiful, moving cemetery defiled. Brian T. Allen, National Review, 23 Dec. 2023 On the deepest level, Schulman felt himself to be defiled and ridiculed by his participation in the whole process, the butt of a joke perpetrated by the too-clever Talmudists seeking to one-up each other with preposterous possibilities, having their fun at Schulman’s expense. Tova Reich, Harper's Magazine, 11 Dec. 2023 But there’s a difference between making an unplanned pit stop in the bushes and defiling a public running track. Martin Fritz Huber, Outside Online, 25 Feb. 2022
Amy Baker Harrison was indicted by a Stafford County grand jury on Monday for the first-degree murder of Jacqueline Lard, as well as abduction with the intent to defile, aggravated malicious wounding and breaking and entering with the intent to commit murder, according to the sheriff’s office. Amanda Jackson, CNN, 9 Mar. 2024 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

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'defile.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 23 Jun. 2024.

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

More from Merriam-Webster on defile

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