enormity

noun

enor·​mi·​ty i-ˈnȯr-mə-tē How to pronounce enormity (audio)
plural enormities
1
: an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act
the enormities of state powerSusan Sontag
other enormities too juvenile to mentionRichard 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
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 At 5, Juwan Perry Jr. is too young to comprehend the news media attention surrounding him and the enormity that his common-sense actions last week had on his mother, six siblings, neighbors — and metro Detroit. Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press, 9 Apr. 2024 Other artists, like Joseph Beuys, who scribbled out a quasi-Marxist manifesto, and Dalí, had been born early enough in the 20th century to know the full enormity of Nazism, fascism and the Second World War. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 25 Mar. 2024 The enormity of the child care crisis is undeniable, and no singular solution can fully meet its complex demands. Christine Michel Carter, Forbes, 23 Feb. 2024 To commemorate its 40th anniversary in 2024 and the enormity (and reciprocity) of that cultural footprint, festival leadership set a series of restoration screenings to highlight many of the most memorable films programmed throughout its history. Nick Clement, Variety, 16 Jan. 2024 The horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade are often expressed in numerical terms whose enormity can be difficult to grasp. Barbara Spindel, The Christian Science Monitor, 7 Mar. 2024 Then the enormity of the collision hit him almost as hard as the vehicle that put him there. Kory Grow, Rolling Stone, 22 Dec. 2023 The enormity of the reaction to O'Connor's appointment had surprised her. Mark Sherman The Associated Press, arkansasonline.com, 2 Dec. 2023 The actors struggle, in accomplished and intentional ways, against the confusing enormity of loss. Siddhant Adlakha, Variety, 10 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'enormity.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

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Dictionary Entries Near enormity

Cite this Entry

“Enormity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enormity. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

enormity

noun
enor·​mi·​ty i-ˈnȯr-mət-ē How to pronounce enormity (audio)
plural enormities
1
: great wickedness
the enormity of the crime
2
: an outrageous or immoral act or offense
3
: very large size
4
: the quality of great impact or importance

More from Merriam-Webster on enormity

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