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 scene, as captured in the video above, devolved into chaos anyway. Julia Alexander, The Verge, "New Banksy video shows Girl with Balloon should have been totally shredded," 18 Oct. 2018 The situation then devolved into one of the most hard-to-watch, enraging, and heartbreaking moments in sports history, especially as a black woman. Zerlina Maxwell, Teen Vogue, "Serena Williams’ Treatment at the U.S. Open Is About More Than Tennis," 10 Sep. 2018 However, the speech quickly devolved into a tribute to herself. Christina Coleman, Glamour, "We Need to Talk About Madonna's 'Tribute' to Aretha Franklin at the 2018 VMAs," 21 Aug. 2018 While this is great in theory, these interests quickly devolve into superficial indulgences. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "What the Position of Venus in Your Birth Chart Means for You," 31 July 2018 In the third inning of Dylan Covey’s start against the Reds on Tuesday, one inning before his day devolved into a six-run tsunami, the White Sox right-hander threw a pitch that went wide and hit the dirt. Phil Thompson,, "Get a grip? White Sox pitchers struggle in hot, humid conditions," 5 July 2018 An international basketball game between Australia and the Philippines devolved into an all-out brawl Monday. Tom Schad, USA TODAY, "Australia-Philippines FIBA basketball game gets ugly with 13 ejections after massive brawl," 2 July 2018 The loose union of seven emirates in 1971 may be unique, but a country as large and diverse as Saudi Arabia has much to gain from devolving power. The Economist, "How to ensure Muhammad bin Salman’s reforms succeed," 23 June 2018 An argument between two men devolved into a shooting near a New Orleans playground a century ago this month. James Karst,, "Willie Telfry was arrested with Louis Armstrong, but he followed a different path," 19 Feb. 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

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Statistics for devolve

Last Updated

5 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

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

History and Etymology for devolve

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on devolve

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with devolve

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for devolve

Nglish: Translation of devolve for Spanish Speakers

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to make faulty or ineffective

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