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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

Examples of deviate in a Sentence

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
Originality comes these days from just how far series deviate, genre bend and blend away from classic formats, often in stories set in novel contexts. John Hopewell, Variety, 24 June 2024 In the past five quarters, analyst estimates for Nvidia’s sales have deviated from actual results by an average of 12%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Orianna Rosa Royle, Fortune, 23 June 2024
One problem might be that 988 deviates from the more familiar N11 codes. Mark Goldstein, STAT, 22 Sep. 2023 The charges included two counts of rape, six counts of unlawful deviate conduct and three counts of criminal deviate conduct and one count of robbery. CBS News, 4 Apr. 2022
Aggravating circumstances: Rape/criminal deviate conduct, on probation or parole, mutilation/torture. Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star, 31 Jan. 2014 See all Example Sentences for deviate 

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 14 Jul. 2024.

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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