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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
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Tourbillon Robert Downey Jr. rarely deviates from Jaeger-LeCoultre when hitting the red carpet. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 13 Apr. 2024 Such readings deviated only by the smallest amount from Friday, when the high was also 57 but the morning low was a degree less at 40. Martin Weil, Washington Post, 7 Apr. 2024 In fact, any workout that deviated from my regular routine would feel almost excruciating. Will Stone, NPR, 29 Mar. 2024 If your case deviated at all from the norm, oftentimes, you were forced to seek other methods for justice. Kyle Dillon Hertz, TIME, 5 Apr. 2024 Blake Edward’s 1961 film adaptation—a romantic drama starring starring Audrey Hepburn—deviates rather considerably from Capote’s gorgeously gruff prose. Lilah Ramzi, Vogue, 4 Apr. 2024 Moreover, the winner's victory margin in Ohio was consistently close to the victory margin in the popular vote nationwide, only deviating by about one percentage point on average over the last dozen presidential elections. Ron Elving, NPR, 23 Mar. 2024 Ambivalent voters may be more attracted to candidates who deviate from the political norm. Marcela Valdes, New York Times, 25 Feb. 2024 One challenge is deviating from what's already working and overloading the business instead of focusing on the main business model. Expert Panel®, Forbes, 15 Feb. 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 The charges include two counts of rape, six counts of unlawful deviate conduct and three counts of criminal deviate conduct, and one count of robbery against 10 victims total. Fox News, 4 Apr. 2022 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
Aggravating circumstances: Rape/criminal deviate conduct, on probation or parole, mutilation/torture. Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star, 31 Jan. 2014

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 24 Apr. 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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