de·​grade | \di-ˈgrād, dē-\

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
degradingly \ -​ˈgrā-​diŋ-​lē \ adverb

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

This damaging form of objectification degrades an individual to a single identifier, drowning individualism and perpetuating fetishism. Kelsey Castañon,, "I'm Latinx — & I'm Fed Up With Being Called "Exotic"," 24 May 2018 At a press conference in Downing Street, Mrs. May said the strikes were aimed at degrading Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons to attack his own people. Julian E. Barnes, WSJ, "Coordination on Syria Strikes Belies Simmering Tensions," 14 Apr. 2018 Our medically necessary treatment does not degrade from the needs or requirements from our services as emphasized by the AMA. Ariel Jao /, NBC News, "'No medically valid reason' to ban trans troops, American Medical Association says," 5 Apr. 2018 Plastic degrades over time into tiny particles which are ingested by marine life, harming the food chain and environment. Michael Taylor, The Christian Science Monitor, "With reusable plastic bag, Malaysian shoppers encouraged to limit waste," 3 Apr. 2018 The Trump administration has already deemed imports of steel and aluminum a threat to national security, saying foreign metals are degrading the United States’ manufacturing base. New York Times, "Trump Initiates Trade Inquiry That Could Lead to Tariffs on Foreign Cars," 23 May 2018 Throttling could actively degrade service for non-partnered companies. Makena Kelly, The Verge, "Net neutrality is dead — what now?," 11 June 2018 Over half the sage brush on which the grouse feeds has been lost and much of what remains has been degraded by agriculture, industry and invasive grasses fortified by global warming. The Economist, "The parable of the sage grouse," 3 May 2018 If this trend continues, 95 percent of the Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050. National Geographic, "75% of Earth's Land Areas Are Degraded," 26 Mar. 2018

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

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Statistics for degrade

Last Updated

7 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for degrade

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

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More Definitions for degrade



English Language Learners Definition of degrade

: to treat (someone or something) poorly and without respect

: to make the quality of (something) worse

: to cause (something complex) to break down into simple substances or parts


de·​grade | \di-ˈgrād \
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.


transitive verb
de·​grade | \di-ˈgrād \
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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Comments on degrade

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by force of circumstances

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