de·volve | \ di-ˈvälv , -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.

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The election also comes at a time when Mexico’s stable relationship with the United States has devolved, leaving many tired of the country being the punching bag of its northern neighbor. Whitney Eulich, The Christian Science Monitor, "Mexico's man of the people – with an ego," 29 June 2018 In the second episode, Luke and Claire (Rosario Dawson) have a little verbal fight that seems like a couple not seeing eye to eye, but devolves into an explanation of what happened in the show’s first season. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "What went right and what went wrong for Luke Cage’s second season," 22 June 2018 Tony Blair and Gordon Brown modernised the Labour Party and went on to modernise the state, giving the Bank of England its freedom, devolving power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and spring-cleaning government departments. The Economist, "The monarchy is at its strongest in years, unlike the government," 19 May 2018 But often his and others' efforts to pump up his record devolve into unnecessary cherry-picking of stats and trend lines that didn't start on Jan. 20, 2017. Aaron Blake, Washington Post, "Is Donald Trump the John Wooden of presidents? Evaluating the case for Trump’s new favorite metaphor.," 15 May 2018 Could government become better and more just by devolving more power to the people? Mark Sappenfield, The Christian Science Monitor, "The largest patriotism," 3 July 2018 But the group devolved into a cult of personality with an increasingly strong-armed leader who ruled by intimidation — and then violence. Jeff Truesdell,, "Murderous Religious Cult Leader Dispatched 'Death Angels' to Punish Those Who Crossed Him," 22 June 2018 Zama is trapped, and as the film progresses his little fiefdom devolves further into disrepair. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Zama Is a Surreal Satire of Colonialism," 19 Apr. 2018 Matters of health, however, were devolved to the Welsh government in 1998. The Economist, "Welsh prisons are much harsher than England’s on opioid treatment," 12 July 2018

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.

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First Known Use of devolve

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for devolve

Middle English, from Latin devolvere, from de- + volvere to roll — more at voluble

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

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Statistics for devolve

Last Updated

12 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for devolve

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

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More Definitions for devolve



English Language Learners Definition of devolve

: to gradually go from an advanced state to a less advanced state

: to pass (responsibility, power, etc.) from one person or group to another person or group at a lower level of authority

: to be given to someone after the owner has died

de·volve | \ di-ˈvȯlv, -ˈvälv \
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

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to make amends

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