enor·​mi·​ty | \ i-ˈnȯr-mə-tē How to pronounce enormity (audio) \
plural enormities

Definition of enormity

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: Usage Guide

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

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").

Examples of enormity in a Sentence

We were shocked at the enormity of the crime. They didn't fully grasp the enormity of their decision.
Recent Examples on the Web Rear visibility is impaired, not only by the enormity of its rear spoiler but also by its roll cage. Scott Oldham, Car and Driver, "1984 Porsche 911 Ruf RSR Bristles with Power," 21 Jan. 2021 Stand back, for a moment, and consider the enormity of his actions. The Economist, "Impeachment Donald Trump’s reckoning," 16 Jan. 2021 Despite the recent holidays and the enormity of setting up a massive vaccination program, there are some success stories. Robin Lloyd, Scientific American, "Coronavirus News Roundup, January 2-January 8," 8 Jan. 2021 The enormity of the challenge Ant faces restarting its IPO emerged from discussions with officials working across regulators with oversight of financial services and the securities industry. Bloomberg.com, "Ant IPO Has Slim Chance of Getting Done Next Year," 30 Nov. 2020 Remember that this small gesture barely registers the enormity of state violence. Darcel Rockett, chicagotribune.com, "Volunteers create Black Lives Matter memorial under the Red Line in Rogers Park with the names of people killed by police," 30 Dec. 2020 An ambitious $455 million project that would have added more than 1,000 rooms to San Diego’s downtown bayfront was rejected Monday by port commissioners who were troubled by the enormity of the development and its impacts on public vistas. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Port commissioners reject $455 million hotel project on San Diego’s downtown bayfront," 28 Dec. 2020 Spencer does worry that the enormity of the losses — 10 of them by more than 60 points — will take a poll on his young team, which counts seven freshmen on its 11-man roster. Paul Newberry, ajc, "Column: A tiny Bible college becomes the Washington Generals," 23 Dec. 2020 Both sides had agreed to extend the deadline for prosecutors to secure an indictment due to the enormity of the case and the large volume of documents. Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press, "6 Whitmer kidnap suspects indicted. 1 called for killing police, feds say," 17 Dec. 2020

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.

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First Known Use of enormity

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of enormity was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

12 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Enormity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enormity. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for enormity



English Language Learners Definition of enormity

formal : a shocking, evil, or immoral act
: great evil or wickedness
: great size

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for enormity

Nglish: Translation of enormity for Spanish Speakers

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