de·​grade | \ di-ˈgrād , 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
degradingly \ -​ˈgrā-​diŋ-​lē \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for degrade


break, bust, demote, disrate, downgrade, reduce


advance, elevate, promote, raise

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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

The challenge, of course, is increasing the number of ads without degrading the user experience. Rani Molla, Recode, "Social media growth is over in the U.S. — which is its most valuable market," 5 Nov. 2018 And the lowest tier Go Unlimited plan, which can slow data at any time and degrades streaming video to DVD quality, starts at $75 per month. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "Verizon Adds a Third Unlimited Plan Tier With Even More High-Speed Data," 14 June 2018 The planet's biodiversity is threatened by habitat destruction, climate change, hunting and fishing, the spread of invasive species and all the other ways that seven billion human beings alter and degrade the environment. The Washington Post,, "Some endangered frogs may be leaping back from extinction," 17 May 2018 So Lempe invited Halverson to visit the company’s Sarasota headquarters, learn how his business works, and help RevContent figure out which ads exploit and degrade women. Klint Finley, WIRED, "MeToo Is Changing Even the Smarmiest Advertisers," 3 Apr. 2018 In this new era, humans are the primary change agents, rapidly degrading what makes the planet habitable, intensifying greenhouse gas concentration, and damaging the health of marine ecosystems. Abigail Higgins, Vox, "10 ways the world is most likely to end, explained by scientists," 18 Oct. 2018 But the mission team put the observatory to sleep less than a month later after noticing that Kepler's pointing ability had degraded. Mike Wall,, "NASA's Kepler Planet-Hunting Space Telescope Wakes Up Again," 13 Oct. 2018 Historically, the use of apes to describe black people has been used as a racial epithet to dehumanize and degrade black and brown people globally. Abby Gardner, Glamour, "ABC Cancels 'Roseanne' After Racist Twitter Rant," 29 May 2018 Deheyn explains that these microscopic fibers, not clear to the naked eye, are generated when fabric material degrades. Tabor Wordelman, Teen Vogue, "Your Yoga Pants Are Polluting the Water You Drink," 19 Dec. 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

31 Jan 2019

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
technical : 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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More from Merriam-Webster on degrade

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with degrade

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for degrade

Spanish Central: Translation of degrade

Nglish: Translation of degrade for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of degrade for Arabic Speakers

Comments on degrade

What made you want to look up degrade? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to express emotion in a dramatic way

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