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 There, the scene has devolved over the past week into the parliamentary equivalent of a Superfund site. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 22 Sep. 2023 Barrymore begins with a smirking grin at her camera, before her expression devolves into one of seriousness and then close to tears. Ct Jones, Rolling Stone, 18 Sep. 2023 Couples who pod together get divorced together. Damian and Giannina, Season 1 After a connection in the pods fostered a sweet double proposal (and a horny start in Mexico), Damian and Giannina quickly devolved into one of the most volatile couples in the bunch. Charlotte Walsh, Vulture, 6 Sep. 2023 In April, the Pentagon sent two warships to the Port of Sudan, and the United States evacuated hundreds of citizens from the devolving chaos that has resulted in hundreds of deaths and an impending human-rights crisis. Rachel Chason, Washington Post, 30 Aug. 2023 Hutchinson didn’t get a chance to speak about the question, since the conversation further devolved into a spat between Ramaswamy and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Faith E. Pinho, Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2023 Pick: Colts -1 San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m., Fox Once viewed as one of the best modern rivalries in the N.F.L., the series between the Rams and the 49ers devolved into a one-sided affair last season as Los Angeles struggled with injuries and the departure of key free agents. Emmanuel Morgan, New York Times, 14 Sep. 2023 What could have been an unlikely moment of unity devolved into bickering as the White House sought to suggest Saturday that DeSantis backed out of a joint tour, while a spokesman for the governor said earlier that there had been no such plan. Compiled By Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports, Arkansas Online, 3 Sep. 2023 On July 2, the annual Brooklyn Day festival devolved into a melee of gunfire that left two dead and 28 injured. Emily Opilo, Baltimore Sun, 1 Sep. 2023 See More

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 28 Sep. 2023.

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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