noun enor·mi·ty \ i-ˈnȯr-mə-tē \
|Updated on: 15 Aug 2018

Definition of enormity

plural enormities
1 : an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act
  • the enormities of state power
  • —Susan Sontag
  • other enormities too juvenile to mention
  • —Richard Freedman
2 : the quality or state of being immoderate, monstrous, or outrageous; especially : great wickedness
  • the enormity of the crimes committed during the Third Reich
  • —G. A. Craig
3 : the quality or state of being huge : immensity
  • the inconceivable enormity of the universe
4 : a quality of momentous importance or impact
  • the enormity of the decision

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enormity vs. enormousness

Enormity, some people insist, is improperly used to denote large size. They insist on enormousness for this meaning, and would limit enormity to the meaning "great wickedness." Those who urge such a limitation may not recognize the subtlety with which enormity is actually used. It regularly denotes a considerable departure from the expected or normal.
    • they awakened; they sat up; and then the enormity of their situation burst upon them. "How did the fire start?"
    • —John Steinbeck
When used to denote large size, either literal or figurative, it usually suggests something so large as to seem overwhelming
    • no intermediate zone of study. Either the enormity of the desert or the sight of a tiny flower
    • —Paul Theroux
    • the enormity of the task of teachers in slum schools
    • —J. B. Conant
and may even be used to suggest both great size and deviation from morality.
    • the enormity of existing stockpiles of atomic weapons
    • New Republic
It can also emphasize the momentousness of what has happened
    • the sombre enormity of the Russian Revolution
    • —George Steiner
or of its consequences.
    • perceived as no one in the family could the enormity of the misfortune
    • —E. L. Doctorow

Examples of enormity in a Sentence

  1. We were shocked at the enormity of the crime.

  2. They didn't fully grasp the enormity of their decision.

Recent Examples of enormity from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'enormity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Did You Know?

Although enormity has been used since the late 1700s to denote large size, this usage continues to be disparaged by various language commentators who argue that enormity should be reserved for senses related to "great wickedness." It is enormousness, they insist (a hefty and considerably less common word), that should be used in reference to great size, despite the fact that, like enormity, it too originally was used to denote wickedness or divergence from accepted moral standards. For better or worse, this proscription has been widely ignored by many English speakers, including professional writers. However one chooses to use them, enormity and enormous can both be traced back to the Latin enormis, from the prefix e- ("out of") and norma ("rule," "pattern," or "carpenter's square").

First Known Use of enormity

15th century

in the meaning defined at sense 1

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ENORMITY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of enormity for English Language Learners

  • : a shocking, evil, or immoral act

  • : great evil or wickedness

  • : great size

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resembling the blue of the sky

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