de·​vi·​ant | \-ənt \

Definition of deviant 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: straying or deviating especially from an accepted norm (see norm sense 2) deviant behavior


de·​vi·​ant | \ˈdē-vē-ənt \
plural deviants

Definition of deviant (Entry 2 of 2)

: someone or something that deviates from a norm especially : a person who differs markedly (as in social adjustment or behavior) from what is considered normal or acceptable social/moral/sexual deviants Those who commit crimes also watch TV, go to the grocery store, and have their hair cut. Thus, while our stereotypes may suggest that there is a wide gulf between deviants and conventional people …, the behavior of deviants is often very conventional. — Paul C. Higgins and Richard R. Butler The theory thus centers on the question: What are the processes through which people are assigned a social identity as deviants by others and enter upon ongoing careers as deviants? — Mary Beth Norton et al. Acts of punishment thus designate who is in our community by clearly defining who is not in our community. Social solidarity is purchased through the punishment of deviants. — Mark Colvin

Keep scrolling for more

Deviant & Deviate

Deviant and deviate share a common root (the Latin deviare “to wander off the road, swerve, deviate”) and have some similarities in meaning, but they differ in notable ways. Deviant has functioned in English as an adjective (since the 15th century) and as a noun (since the early 20th century), in each case with a sense that suggests a straying from an accepted norm or from what is considered standard behavior. In contrast to deviant’s socially prescriptive connotations, the verb deviate often implies a less judgmental sense of swerving from the usual way (as in “he never deviated from his routine of drinking coffee with breakfast.”)

Examples of deviant in a Sentence


a study of deviant behavior among criminals some studies show that many violent criminals begin exhibiting deviant behavior in early childhood

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Snowflake yeasts have their own way of purging themselves of deviant cells. Elizabeth Pennisi, Science | AAAS, "The momentous transition to multicellular life may not have been so hard after all," 28 June 2018 Those are the questions Virginia Tech researchers Mattia Samory and Tanushree Mitra, who study deviant behavior in online discussions, tried to answer by analyzing a decade's worth of Reddit conspiracy talk. Emma Grey Ellis, WIRED, "Here’s One Way to Reform an Internet Conspiracy Theorist," 27 June 2018 At turns, depending on your decisions, the government response to the deviant AI crisis is a laughably drastic, society-crippling overreaction and/or a severe military underreaction to a major threat. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Detroit: Become Human review: Robotic in all of the wrong ways," 24 May 2018 The beast in Qiu Miaojin’s modernist novels is the consciousness in women that is aware of a deviant lust for women’s bodies. Ankita Chakraborty, Longreads, "A Crocodile In Paris: The Queer Classics of Qiu Miaojin," 8 June 2018 The game takes on a whole new dimension, as participants not only tackle traditional challenges but also try to sneak a deviant move by fellow players without apprehension. Josh Linkner, Detroit Free Press, "New Monopoly game created for cheaters, questionable behavior," 25 May 2018 Fuller in fact is subjected to a humiliating interrogation about possible deviant behavior, but lies his way out of it. John Von Rhein,, "A gay love affair in '50s D.C. plays out to touching effect in 'Fellow Travelers'," 18 Mar. 2018 Spotlight told the story of a gritty investigation into the deviant behavior of priests that was undertaken by the Boston Post as the financial sun was beginning to set on American newspapers. Michael Miner, Chicago Reader, "Film / Media / News / Politics The Post is a Happy Days for old journalists," 29 Jan. 2018 Attempts to cure what was viewed as deviant behavior or mental illness included electroshock therapy, massive hormone doses, intense psychotherapy and psychiatric hospitalization. Laura Arrowsmith,, "Transgender patients need better doctors," 11 Dec. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

But these incidents may also point to something else — like a more explicit desire to preserve racial hierarchies by casting people of color as deviants who can be removed at any moment. P.r. Lockhart, Vox, "Living While Black and the criminalization of blackness," 1 Aug. 2018 But these incidents also may point to something else — like the desire to preserve racial hierarchies by casting people of color as deviants that can be removed at any moment. P.r. Lockhart, Vox, "A black 12-year-old was mowing a lawn. So someone called the police.," 2 July 2018 Being awake, truly awake, not lying in bed with my eyes scrunched closed, felt deviant. Amanda Shapiro, Bon Appetit, "How Learning to Love Insomnia Finally Put Me to Sleep," 29 May 2018 As a revolution rises and more deviants become self-aware and long for freedom, a central conflict unsurprisingly arises between humans and their android counterparts. Patrick Shanley, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Detroit: Become Human' — Game Review," 24 May 2018 Connor, meanwhile, is the Deckard character, an android whose job is to hunt other, malfunctioning androids, known as deviants. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "Detroit: Become Human review: a beautiful vision of the future gets stuck in the past," 24 May 2018 Penelope once found the two girls in the same bed during a sleepover and called Cheryl a deviant. Jessica Macleish, Teen Vogue, ""Riverdale" Recap Season 2 Episode 14: A Weekend in the Woods," 8 Mar. 2018 Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle,’’ Khamenei said. Elisabetta Povoledo,, "Global protests and pressure mark International Women’s Day," 8 Mar. 2018 As an expert on matters of the brain, the renowned neurosurgeon should have known better than to fall into the grips of a deviant with a split personality. Dahleen Glanton,, "HUD Secretary Ben Carson should have told Trump: 'No'," 6 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'deviant.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of deviant


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1923, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for deviant


see deviate entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about deviant

Dictionary Entries near deviant








Statistics for deviant

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for deviant

The first known use of deviant was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for deviant


de·​vi·​ant | \-ənt \

Medical Definition of deviant 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: deviating especially from some accepted norm : characterized by deviation (as from a standard of conduct) socially deviant behavior



Medical Definition of deviant (Entry 2 of 2)

: something that deviates from a norm especially : a person who differs markedly (as in social adjustment or sexual behavior) from what is considered normal for a group

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on deviant

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for deviant

Spanish Central: Translation of deviant

Nglish: Translation of deviant for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of deviant for Arabic Speakers

Comments on deviant

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


noxious or harmful

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A Thanksgiving Word Quiz

  • a-traditional-thanksgiving-dinner
  • November comes from a word for which of the following numbers?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!