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 Their actions have degraded their profession. comments intended to humiliate and degrade others
b : to drag down in moral or intellectual character : corrupt … impelled, by misfortune and misery, to the vice that has degraded them.— Charles Dickens
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

Other Words from degrade

degrader noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for degrade



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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.
Recent Examples on the Web According to Philips, the foam— which can degrade into small particles and then be inhaled by a user—may potentially be toxic or cause cancer. Siladitya Ray, Forbes, 14 June 2021 According to the park service, the number of people trampling through the area over the years has caused the base of the tree to degrade and has wiped out ferns that would normally surround it. Alexis Benveniste, Anchorage Daily News, 2 Aug. 2022 Cells in the retina continue to express the photosensitive protein after a one-time injection of the virus, while physical implants could degrade and stop working, accompanied by risks of infection. Connie Chang Chinchio, Popular Mechanics, 25 Aug. 2022 Invasive species can increase the costs of delivering water and power, degrade recreational opportunities and discourage tourism, said Rachel Pawlitz, chief public affairs officer for the Geological Survey. Dinah Voyles Pulver, USA TODAY, 30 July 2022 Russia says the strikes are part of a campaign to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure and block Western arms shipments. Reuters, NBC News, 6 June 2022 Once that signal is turned off, the CARs should disarm or slowly degrade and deactivate the CAR-T cell’s killing function. Angus Chen, STAT, 19 Jan. 2022 Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change: Pesticides, herbicides, nitrogen-rich fertilisers and monocultures degrade soil and lead to a loss in biodiversity. Marianne Lehnis, Forbes, 15 Sep. 2021 Not only did moving to a four-day workweek not degrade our productivity, but the months following the shift were among the most productive in our history. Sheryl Estrada, Fortune, 16 Aug. 2022 See More

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.

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

Learn More About degrade

Time Traveler for degrade

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near degrade

degradation of energy



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for degrade

Last Updated

24 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Degrade.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for degrade


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.


transitive verb
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

More from Merriam-Webster on degrade

Nglish: Translation of degrade for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of degrade for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Words Named After People

  • name tags
  • Namesake of the leotard, Jules Léotard had what profession?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!