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.

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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 internet allows us to get answers quickly, but those answers can also devolve into a place of misdiagnosis, fear, and confusion. Quartz, "The most important fertility factors have little to do with biology," 19 Mar. 2020 And as the series goes on and Bojack devolves deeper into addiction and narcissism, the title sequence changes even more drastically. Andrew R. Chow, Time, "Inside the Creation of Bojack Horseman's Masterful Title Sequence," 13 Feb. 2020 To understand the law-and-order reality this impeachment inquiry has devolved into, consider a cops-and-robbers variation: A man enters a bank, waving a gun, and orders a teller to fill his sack with money. Martin Schram, Twin Cities, "Martin Schram: A tribute to Trump’s rescuer," 17 Nov. 2019 Hinch spoke with umpires during Game 3 regarding the conditions, which devolved drastically as the Astros upped their lead in the seventh inning. Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, "A.J. Hinch says he will pull Astros off the field if Yankees fans 'become unruly'," 17 Oct. 2019 After the meeting ends, Marie is left alone in the apartment and quickly devolves into solitary drinking and tears. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Sunday': Theater Review," 24 Sep. 2019 His predecessor, Julian Smith, managed to get the region’s devolved government up and running after a three-year hiatus, and that could play a critical role in determining how Brexit plays out in the coming years. Alex Morales,, "The New Faces in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet After His Dramatic Reshuffle," 29 Apr. 2020 Let’s hope this overdue process doesn’t devolve into another fight between governors and President Trump that will confuse Americans and slow the return to normal economic life. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Reopening the Economy, at Last," 13 Apr. 2020 That low-quality audio can get really grimy and even devolve into the dreaded robot voice. Stan Horaczek, Popular Science, "Tips for better sound on your video chats and conference calls," 1 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for devolve

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

22 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Devolve.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for devolve


How to pronounce devolve (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of devolve

chiefly US : 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 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

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More from Merriam-Webster on devolve

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for devolve

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with devolve

Nglish: Translation of devolve for Spanish Speakers

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