devolve

verb
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 waning months of the Republican primary campaign in 2016 devolved into a contest between Trump and the purity of conservative doctrine. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "The Anti-Trump Right Has Become Trump’s Base," 3 July 2018 Online, the debate has devolved into exaggerated claims. Robert Levine, Billboard, "European Parliament Member Helga Trüpel Explains How Copyright Vote Will Go Down (Q&A)," 4 July 2018 This could so easily have devolved into something purely abstract and acrobatic. Jesse Green, New York Times, "Review: Mary-Louise Parker, Resounding in ‘The Sound Inside’," 3 July 2018 By this point, Shafer’s question had devolved into whether public service itself was a sacrifice — not into what the candidates had personally sacrificed. Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, "What have they sacrificed? Most California candidates fumble the question," 9 May 2018 Within days, this has quickly devolved into accusations about motives, and worries that some immigrant families will duck the whole census or give false answers out of fear. Stephen Koff, cleveland.com, "Why President Trump wants the census to ask if you're a citizen, and why people fear the consequences," 28 Mar. 2018 Yemen has devolved into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world as more than 5,000 civilians have been killed and food aid has been unable to reach civilians. NBC News, "Senate blocks war powers resolution for Yemen," 20 Mar. 2018 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

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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Dictionary Entries near devolve

devolatilize

devolute

devolution

devolve

Devon

devon

Devonian

Statistics for devolve

Last Updated

10 Oct 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

devolve

verb

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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