verb de·grade \ di-ˈgrād , dē- \
|Updated on: 18 Jul 2018

Definition of degrade

1 a : 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
2 a : 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
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




play \-ˈgrā-diŋ-lē\ adverb

Examples of degrade in a Sentence

  1. The group accuses the company of degrading women in its ads.

  2. He felt degraded by their remarks.

  3. Scratches on a camera lens will degrade the image.

  4. Pollution has degraded air quality.

Recent Examples of degrade from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of degrade

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

DEGRADE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of degrade for English Language Learners

  • : 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

DEGRADE Defined for Kids


verb de·grade \ di-ˈgrād \

Definition of degrade for Students

degraded; degrading
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.

Word Root of degrade

The Latin word gradus, meaning “step” or “degree,” gives us the root grad. Words from the Latin gradus have something to do with steps. Anything gradual happens slowly one step at a time. To degrade is to reduce from a higher to a lower degree. A grade is a step in school made up of one year of work. Even the word degree itself has gradus as its root.

Medical Dictionary


transitive verb de·grade \ di-ˈgrād \

medical Definition of degrade

degraded; degrading
: 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
: to undergo chemical degradation

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