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 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 How to pronounce degradingly (audio) \ 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

Customers tend to replace phones more often than computers, and there are a number of incentivizes — like Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program and the fact that smartphone batteries degrade — that encourage the more frequent buying of new phones. Nick Statt, The Verge, "Apple confirms its T2 security chip blocks some third-party repairs of new Macs," 12 Nov. 2018 But winter weather is also a hindrance because freezing and thawing cycles can degrade concrete and other building materials more quickly. Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "The Mississippi River lock and dam system is critical to the economy. But it's falling apart fast.," 1 June 2018 Because what was degrading to Americans was Bill Clinton's actions in the Oval Office. Fox News, "Purple Heart recipient helps veterans battle opioid abuse," 29 May 2018 Speed is essential to preserve RNA and DNA, the building blocks of cells, which can degrade quickly after death. Scientific American, "“Rapid Autopsy” Programs Seek Clues to Cancer Within Hours of Death," 27 Apr. 2018 Speed is essential to preserve RNA and DNA, the building blocks of cells, which can degrade quickly after death. Jonel Aleccia, Washington Post, "‘Rapid Autopsy’ Programs Seek Clues To Cancer Within Hours Of Death," 26 Apr. 2018 Speed is essential to preserve RNA and DNA, the building blocks of cells, which can degrade quickly after death. Time, "How a New Kind of Autopsy Is Helping in the Fight Against Cancer," 24 Apr. 2018 One study examined neuroticism, considered a risk factor for a host of traits that can degrade the quality of life, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Glenn Fleishman, Fortune, "Studies Identify Key Genes for Intelligence, Depression, ADHD, and Autism," 25 June 2018 Antarctica might seem an unlikely place to find microbes that degrade wood. Peter Andrey Smith, Scientific American, "Microbes Living in Antarctic Huts Produce Novel Chemical Compounds," 1 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

14 Mar 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 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

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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

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