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de·​vi·​ate ˈdē-vē-ˌāt How to pronounce deviate (audio)
deviated; deviating

intransitive verb

: to stray especially from a standard, principle, or topic
deviating from the subject
: to depart from an established course or norm
a flight forced by weather to deviate south
rarely deviates from his usual routine
behaviors that deviate from the norm

transitive verb

: to cause to turn out of a previous course
he would deviate rivers, turn the scorched plains … into fertile pasturesF. M. Godfrey
deviator noun
deviatory adjective


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de·​vi·​ate ˈdē-vē-ət How to pronounce deviate (audio)
: one that deviates from a norm
especially : a person who differs markedly from a group norm
mathematics : a statistical variable that gives the deviation (see deviation sense b) of another variable from a fixed value (such as the mean)


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de·​vi·​ate ˈdē-vē-ət How to pronounce deviate (audio)
: departing significantly from the behavioral norms (see norm sense 2) of a particular society
deviate behavior

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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.”)

Choose the Right Synonym for deviate

swerve, veer, deviate, depart, digress, diverge mean to turn aside from a straight course.

swerve may suggest a physical, mental, or moral turning away from a given course, often with abruptness.

swerved to avoid hitting the dog

veer implies a major change in direction.

at that point the path veers to the right

deviate implies a turning from a customary or prescribed course.

never deviated from her daily routine

depart suggests a deviation from a traditional or conventional course or type.

occasionally departs from his own guidelines

digress applies to a departing from the subject of one's discourse.

a professor prone to digress

diverge may equal depart but usually suggests a branching of a main path into two or more leading in different directions.

after school their paths diverged

Example Sentences

Verb sailors forced to deviate from their course in order to avoid the storm Noun a sleazy bar that seemed to be an informal clubhouse for deviates Adjective the mother's deviate response to her child's death aroused suspicions
Recent Examples on the Web
Cereza and the Lost Demon is easy to fall in love with as a magical picture-book that deviates into the macabre side of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Joshua Khan, Rolling Stone, 23 Mar. 2023 Each car manufacturer will use a different system for alerting the driver if the measurements deviate from the norm, Alex says. IEEE Spectrum, 23 Mar. 2023 Agency bigwigs didn’t love schemes deviating from tradition, investigators say. Benoît Morenne, WIRED, 9 Mar. 2023 The ministry said the drones lost control and deviated from their flight path and were shot down by the Russian military. David L. Stern, Washington Post, 28 Feb. 2023 If the mixture deviates from this norm, then hot- and cold-weather performance can suffer. oregonlive, 22 Feb. 2023 America’s most popular form of entertainment, offered for an artist willing to twist, distort and deviate TV from its typical usage. Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter, 26 Jan. 2023 This is one of several times throughout the doc where his version deviates from what happened. Marlow Stern, Rolling Stone, 12 Apr. 2023 Nonsubscribers will also get personalized insights whenever their data deviates from their long-term baselines. Victoria Song, The Verge, 14 Mar. 2023
The map shows how far the night skies in different parts of the world deviate from natural sky brightness. Carl Engelking, Discover Magazine, 10 June 2016 But despite the stress on the program, Campbell didn’t deviate from his core values — choosing redshirt sophomore quarterback Hunter Dekkers over anyone from the portal. Dallas News, 14 July 2022 Helmet Technology is Improving For decades, helmet design didn’t deviate from this basic blueprint. Rena Kingery, Discover Magazine, 16 June 2022 Her list will be specific — and one dares not deviate or DIL will have another reason to blame everything her husband (your beloved son) does wrong. Bea Lewis, Sun Sentinel, 8 Dec. 2022 Patrick Gilham was charged with burglary and unlawful deviate conduct. CBS News, 12 Nov. 2022 Yet the Brookhaven experiment and the latest results coming from the G-2 experiment at Fermilab deviate from this prediction. Andreas Crivellin, Scientific American, 23 Oct. 2022 More recent research developments in CAR design deviate from this foundational model to finetune precision and function. William A. Haseltine, Forbes, 3 Oct. 2022 However, issues with AI implementation complexity deviate one's attention from the actual problem of unfairness in society. Naveen Joshi, Forbes, 14 Mar. 2022
Aggravating circumstances: Rape/criminal deviate conduct, on probation or parole, mutilation/torture. Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star, 31 Jan. 2014 See More

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

Word History


Verb, Noun, and Adjective

Late Latin deviatus, past participle of deviare, from Latin de- + via way — more at way

First Known Use


circa 1633, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1


1912, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1929, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of deviate was circa 1633

Dictionary Entries Near deviate

Cite this Entry

“Deviate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


deviated; deviating
: to turn aside from a course, principle, standard, or topic

Medical Definition


1 of 2 adjective
de·​vi·​ate ˈdē-vē-ət How to pronounce deviate (audio) -vē-ˌāt How to pronounce deviate (audio)
: characterized by or given to significant departure from the behavioral norms of a particular society


2 of 2 noun
: one that deviates from a norm
especially : a person who differs markedly from a group norm

More from Merriam-Webster on deviate

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