de·​grade | \ di-ˈgrād How to pronounce degrade (audio) , dē- \
degraded; degrading; degrades

Definition of degrade

transitive verb

1a : to lower in grade, rank, or status : demote
b : to strip of rank or honors
c : to lower to an inferior or less effective level degrade the image quality
d : to scale down in desirability or salability
2a : to bring to low esteem or into disrepute his actions have degraded his profession punishments intended to humiliate and degrade prisoners
b : to drag down in moral or intellectual character : corrupt the Indians who consume peyote buttons do not seem to be … morally degraded by the habit— Aldous Huxley
3 : to impair in respect to some physical property material degraded by exposure to sunlight
4 geology : to wear down by erosion degraded the hillside
5 chemistry : to reduce the complexity of (a chemical compound) : decompose

intransitive verb

1 : to pass from a higher grade or class to a lower causes the meat to degrade in quality
2 of a chemical compound : to become reduced in complexity plastics that don't easily degrade

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Other Words from degrade

degrader noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for degrade



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Did You Know?

In Shakespeare's King Lear, the old king is degraded by the daughters he has given his kingdom to. He finds it degrading, for instance, when the number of his guards is reduced from 100 to 25. His degradation seems complete when, after going mad, he's reduced to living in the wilderness. As you can see, degrade is often a synonym for humiliate.

Examples of degrade in a Sentence

The group accuses the company of degrading women in its ads. He felt degraded by their remarks. Scratches on a camera lens will degrade the image. Pollution has degraded air quality.
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Recent Examples on the Web Bright streaks caused by light reflecting off them could degrade astronomical images. Alexandra Witze, Scientific American, "SpaceX Tests Black Satellite to Reduce “Megaconstellation” Threat to Astronomy," 10 Jan. 2020 What's more, ingredients in e-liquid can degrade or change in potentially harmful ways once they're aerosolized. Erika Edwards, NBC News, "Not just counterfeit: Legal THC vaping products linked to lung illnesses," 6 Dec. 2019 Chicken — rather, nubbins of chicken — make yet another appearance on a plate of gloppy pasta that’s the polar opposite of al dente and further degraded by a rumor of pesto. Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, "Now you can eat at the Capitol just like a U.S. representative: Badly," 4 Dec. 2019 For eons, people like us have been degraded and exterminated. Jen Juneau,, "Al Pacino Goes After Nazis in the First Trailer for New Jordan Peele Amazon Prime Series Hunters," 22 Nov. 2019 Riparian corridors and wet meadows widely have been degraded, resulting in deepening gullies and lower groundwater levels. Bruce Finley, The Denver Post, "Moving rocks by hand, Colorado volunteers strengthen eroding landscapes to help withstand climate change," 22 Sep. 2019 American trains were once that wonderful, but they have been degraded by those in Congress who demand Amtrak be more self-supporting than air and highway systems. Los Angeles Times, "Canadian train ride is a hit with readers," 31 Aug. 2019 The power system was further degraded by the war against Islamic State, which inflicted $7 billion of damage, with eight out of 17 power plants in areas occupied by the militants completely destroyed, according to a World Bank assessment. Benoit Faucon, WSJ, "As Iraq Tries to Beat the Heat, U.S. Renews Sanctions Waiver on Power From Iran," 18 June 2019 The degree to which his May 8th injury was determinable was probably enhanced, not degraded, by the circumstances of his care. Michael Mccann,, "Kevin Durant's Achilles Injury and the Potential Legal Implications," 17 June 2019

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

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First Known Use of degrade

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for degrade

Middle English, from Anglo-French degrader, from Late Latin degradare, from Latin de- + gradus step, grade — more at grade entry 1

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Time Traveler for degrade

Time Traveler

The first known use of degrade was in the 14th century

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Statistics for degrade

Last Updated

14 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Degrade.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for degrade


How to pronounce degrade (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of degrade

: to treat (someone or something) poorly and without respect
: to make the quality of (something) worse
technical : to cause (something complex) to break down into simple substances or parts


de·​grade | \ di-ˈgrād How to pronounce degrade (audio) \
degraded; degrading

Kids Definition of degrade

1 : to lower in character or dignity Mom feels that dressing animals in costumes degrades them.
2 : to break down or separate into simpler parts or substances Bacteria will degrade the spilled pollutant.
3 : to reduce from a higher to a lower rank or degree He was degraded to a private by his commander.
de·​grade | \ di-ˈgrād How to pronounce degrade (audio) \
degraded; degrading

Medical Definition of degrade

: to reduce the complexity of (a chemical compound) by splitting off one or more groups or larger components : decompose cellulose is degraded by the action of some bacteria

intransitive verb

: to undergo chemical degradation

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More from Merriam-Webster on degrade

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for degrade

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with degrade

Spanish Central: Translation of degrade

Nglish: Translation of degrade for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of degrade for Arabic Speakers

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