de·​spoil di-ˈspȯi(-ə)l How to pronounce despoil (audio)
despoiled; despoiling; despoils

transitive verb

: to strip of belongings, possessions, or value : pillage
despoiler noun
despoilment noun
Choose the Right Synonym for despoil

ravage, devastate, waste, sack, pillage, despoil mean to lay waste by plundering or destroying.

ravage implies violent often cumulative depredation and destruction.

a hurricane ravaged the coast

devastate implies the complete ruin and desolation of a wide area.

an earthquake devastated the city

waste may imply producing the same result by a slow process rather than sudden and violent action.

years of drought had wasted the area

sack implies carrying off all valuable possessions from a place.

barbarians sacked ancient Rome

pillage implies ruthless plundering at will but without the completeness suggested by sack.

settlements pillaged by Vikings

despoil applies to looting or robbing without suggesting accompanying destruction.

the Nazis despoiled the art museums

Examples of despoil in a Sentence

The landscape has been despoiled by industrial development. the burglars despoiled the art museum in search of treasures they thought they could sell to a fence
Recent Examples on the Web But that hasn’t dissuaded some people in the Middle East and North Africa from doing to rivers what others all over the globe have done to theirs: despoil and deplete them. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, 29 Sep. 2023 The monument, situated along the Arizona Strip, aims to protect the Grand Canyon from more uranium mining, which Native Americans said would despoil many sacred ancestral sites, leach into aquifers and threaten water supplies. Mark Eddington, The Salt Lake Tribune, 8 Aug. 2023 And on both flanks, the Trust set aside 33 low-lying acres that still contain the potential to despoil the whole place. Developing Governors Island, Curbed, 11 May 2023 Growth in Africa must be clean, both in terms of generating energy and not despoiling the continent’s landscape and natural resources. Jack A. Goldstone, Foreign Affairs, 18 May 2023 In stark contrast to the sensible environmental policies of his Republican predecessors, Watt’s policy enthusiasms included drilling, clear-cutting, despoiling public lands, and shredding environmental regulations. Liza Featherstone, The New Republic, 16 June 2023 This urge to despoil images of the unpopular goes a long way toward explaining why so many statues of Nero lost their heads, said Eric R. Varner, professor of classics and art history at Emory University. Graham Bowley, New York Times, 12 June 2023 Don’t believe the cries that the 5-4 decision will despoil America’s precious wetlands. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 25 May 2023 This remake injects some contemporary misfortune (humans despoil the water, we’re told). Wesley Morris, New York Times, 24 May 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'despoil.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English despoylen, from Anglo-French despoiller, from Latin despoliare, from de- + spoliare to strip, rob — more at spoil entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of despoil was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near despoil

Cite this Entry

“Despoil.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


de·​spoil di-ˈspȯil How to pronounce despoil (audio)
: to strip of belongings, possessions, or value : plunder, pillage
despoiler noun
despoilment noun

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