de·​volve | \ di-ˈvälv How to pronounce devolve (audio) , -ˈvȯlv, dē- \
devolved; devolving

Definition of devolve

transitive verb

: to pass on (something, such as responsibility, rights, or powers) from one person or entity to another devolving to western Europe full responsibility for its own defense— Christopher Lane

intransitive verb

1a : to pass by transmission or succession the estate devolved on a distant cousin
b : to fall or be passed usually as a responsibility or obligation the responsibility for breadwinning has devolved increasingly upon women— Barbara Ehrenreich
2 : to come by or as if by flowing down streams devolving from the mountains his allegedly subversive campaigns … devolve from his belief in basic American rights— Frank Deford
3 : to degenerate through a gradual change or evolution The scene devolved into chaos.

The Evolution of Devolve

Devolve evolved from Latin volvere, a word that means "to roll." The prefix de- means "down." (Other words that revolve around volvere are the five other words containing -vol- found in this paragraph.) Knowing which preposition to use with devolve can seem a bit involved, but it's really not all that convoluted. Responsibility or rights devolve "on," "upon," or "to" someone. When something comes into a present state by flowing down from a source, either literally or figuratively, we say "devolve from," as in "customs that devolve from old beliefs." And when the devolving is a downward evolution to a lower state we say "devolves into" (or sometimes "devolves to"), as in "order devolves into chaos."

Examples of devolve in a Sentence

She cynically asserts that our species is devolving. Somehow the debate devolved into a petty competition to see who could get more applause. Community leaders hope that the new government will devolve more power to the community itself. Responsibility has devolved to the individual teachers.
Recent Examples on the Web Although much of the day’s performances got off without a hitch, the end of the night seemed to devolve into chaos, per social media reports. Shirley Ju, Variety, 14 May 2022 Before the court took a break for lunch, Heard testified that the couple's relationship began to devolve. Sonia Moghe, CNN, 5 May 2022 Policy experts largely expect such a hearing with Musk, who is known for his brusque criticism of lawmakers, would devolve into a media frenzy. Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2022 With several Republican committee members who could launch presidential bids in 2024, including Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton, there is plenty of potential for hearings to devolve into political theater. Alisa Wiersema, ABC News, 18 Mar. 2022 That, added Conley, was the byproduct of a collective decision not to devolve into hero-ball, but to trust one another and allow everyone on the court to play a role in turning things around. Eric Walden, The Salt Lake Tribune, 21 Mar. 2022 Debates in the chamber can devolve into fisticuffs. NBC News, 21 Mar. 2022 Sometimes, these spontaneous events devolve into violence. Janelle Bitker, San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Mar. 2022 Many comment sections, out there in the infinite web of the internet, quickly devolve. Austin Irwin, Car and Driver, 14 Mar. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of devolve

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for devolve

Middle English devolven "to transfer, overthrow," borrowed from Latin dēvolvere "to roll (something) down, (in passive voice) sink or fall back, become subject (to), be passed down (to an heir)," from dē- de- + volvere "to set in a circular course, cause to roll" — more at wallow entry 1

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Last Updated

19 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Devolve.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for devolve


intransitive verb
de·​volve | \ di-ˈvȯlv, -ˈvälv How to pronounce devolve (audio) \
devolved; devolving

Legal Definition of devolve

1 : to pass by transfer or succession the estate devolved to a distant cousin
2 : to fall or be passed usually as an obligation or responsibility in case of the removal of the President from office, or of his…inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice PresidentU.S. Constitution art. II

History and Etymology for devolve

Medieval Latin devolvi, passive of devolvere to roll down, from Latin, from de down, away + volvere to roll

More from Merriam-Webster on devolve

Nglish: Translation of devolve for Spanish Speakers


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