verb de·volve \ di-ˈvälv , -ˈvȯlv , dē- \
Updated on: 9 May 2018

Definition of devolve

devolved; devolving
: 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
1 a : 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.

devolve was our Word of the Day on 09/10/2016. Hear the podcast!

Examples of devolve in a Sentence

  1. She cynically asserts that our species is devolving.

  2. Somehow the debate devolved into a petty competition to see who could get more applause.

  3. Community leaders hope that the new government will devolve more power to the community itself.

  4. Responsibility has devolved to the individual teachers.

Recent Examples of devolve from the Web

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.

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."

Origin and Etymology of devolve

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

DEVOLVE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of devolve for English Language Learners

  • : 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

Law Dictionary


intransitive verb de·volve \ di-ˈvȯlv, -ˈvälv \

legal Definition of devolve

devolved; devolving
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 President
  • U.S. Constitution art. II

Origin and Etymology of devolve

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

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to fill with foolish love or admiration

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