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 Of course, both moments did devolve into arguments between Kenya and Porsha — but isn't that part of the beauty of The Real Housewives? Mary Sollosi,, "The Week in 'Wives: A RHOA reunion, RHOD finale, and RHONJ romance," 1 May 2021 Bencharova used to regularly attend the community meetings where debates on that question would devolve into shouting. Isabelle Khurshudyan, Washington Post, "Along Russia’s majestic Lake Baikal, the quest for tourism cash stalks a pristine landscape," 1 Apr. 2021 Unlike Trump, Biden refrained from insulting reporters or calling them fake news, and exchanges challenging administration actions did not devolve into angry recriminations. Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times, "Biden’s first news conference provides glimpse of post-COVID challenges," 25 Mar. 2021 Although the poems are often profoundly spiritual, the show refuses to devolve into didacticism. David Gardner, Vulture, "Close Your Eyes and Listen to Poetry Unbound," 26 Mar. 2021 There was no real hint that things could devolve into Maryland Baltimore County stunning Virginia in 2018 or anything of that magnitude. Chuck Carlton, Dallas News, "Baylor looks as dominant as advertised in NCAA tournament opening win over Hartford," 20 Mar. 2021 This can easily devolve into so much corporate drivel scattered on office walls that hold no real meaning for anyone. Yec, Forbes, "If You Really Value Someone Let Them Grow," 11 Mar. 2021 This level of support to overturn the election result raises the prospect of whether the once-pro forma exercise of certification might now devolve every four years into a heated partisan spectacle — or, worse, riots. Mark Leibovich, New York Times, "Don’t Care for This Impeachment? Wait Until Next Year," 16 Feb. 2021 To ensure that the process of identifying and solving a team’s communication problems won’t devolve into a blame game or result in further miscommunication, focus on strengthening practical communication skills. Expert Panel®, Forbes, "How To Keep Teams Communicating: 11 Proven Strategies," 2 Mar. 2021

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

7 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Devolve.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for devolve



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

More from Merriam-Webster on devolve

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for devolve

Nglish: Translation of devolve for Spanish Speakers

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