de·​volve di-ˈvälv How to pronounce devolve (audio)
devolved; devolving

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 defenseChristopher Lane

intransitive verb

: to pass by transmission or succession
the estate devolved on a distant cousin
: to fall or be passed usually as a responsibility or obligation
the responsibility for breadwinning has devolved increasingly upon womenBarbara Ehrenreich
: 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 rightsFrank Deford
: to degenerate through a gradual change or evolution
The scene devolved into chaos.

Did you know?

The Evolution of Devolve

Evolve? Check. Revolve? Check. Devolve? Now we’re on a roll—literally. All three of these words (and more) evolved from the Latin verb volvere, meaning "to set in a circular course, to cause to roll, to bring round." Latin ēvolvere means "to roll out or away"; Latin revolvere means "to roll back to a starting point"; and Latin dēvolvere means "to roll (something) down." In its earliest uses in the 15th century, devolve was about literally rolling down: it meant "to roll onward or downward." Today the word is typically about a more figurative rolling down, as when an organization devolves power—that is, passes power down—to those at a lower level of authority, or when a deteriorating situation is described as "devolving into chaos." One word, multiple uses. That's just how English rolls.

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 When the first debate of the 2020 presidential cycle devolved into chaos — with Joe Biden and Donald Trump talking over and insulting each other — no one blamed Fox News for moderator Chris Wallace’s inability to maintain control. Jeremy Barr, Washington Post, 27 June 2024 On Sunday, a demonstration outside the Adas Torah synagogue in the predominantly Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood devolved into violence. Karen Garcia, Los Angeles Times, 27 June 2024 More than a week after a grocery delivery in Opa-Locka quickly devolved into a murder, police have arrested the alleged gunman. Michael Cartwright, Miami Herald, 19 June 2024 The National Security Strategy Is Not a Strategy The NSS is supposed to map out a strategy, but over time, the project has devolved into a rhetorical exercise. Rebecca Friedman Lissner, Foreign Affairs, 10 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for devolve 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'devolve.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

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


Dictionary Entries Near devolve

Cite this Entry

“Devolve.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jul. 2024.

Legal Definition


intransitive verb
de·​volve di-ˈvȯlv, -ˈvälv How to pronounce devolve (audio)
devolved; devolving
: to pass by transfer or succession
the estate devolved to a distant cousin
: 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

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

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