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

In the West, Dr. Oxana explained, most doctors believe that the chromosomal health of a woman’s eggs is essentially determined at birth and degrades with age. Elizabeth Katkin, Marie Claire, "It Took 7 Miscarriages, 10 IVF cycles, 9 Years, and Nearly $200,000 to Solve My Fertility Issues," 15 June 2018 King explained that years of exposure to changing temperatures and humidity degraded the propellant, causing the airbags to malfunction. CBS News, "Drivers urged to fix recalled Takata airbags that can explode," 12 June 2018 Prehistoric mosquitoes containing Dino blood have been found, but any dino DNA contained within them has long since degraded. Darren Griffin, Scientific American, "Jurassic World: Can We Really Resurrect a Dinosaur?," 6 June 2018 In this case, the danger is that AT&T, which owns the internet pipeline into an ever-increasing share of American homes, could use that power to steer its customers to its own content and degrade or block competing material. Michael Hiltzik,, "The blueprint for the disastrous AT&T-Time Warner deal was written years ago by the Comcast-NBC merger," 12 June 2018 Some of the explicit photos are juxtaposed with fully-clothes images of the women, in an attempt to degrade them further., "It's Illegal, But These Marines Are Still Sharing Nudes Of Women In The Military," 10 Mar. 2018 That’s just because DNA degrades so rapidly once an animal dies. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "How Jurassic Park led to the modernization of dinosaur paleontology," 23 June 2018 Social networks connect people, but many of those connections degrade into vitriol. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "What Petty Nextdoor Posts Reveal About America," 20 June 2018 Trump, his allies, and his kin are guilty of degrading the language of government and politics to a hitherto unplumbed low. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "What’s So Bad About the C-Word?," 5 June 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

12 Sep 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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to make amends

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