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 The filing of a request to change state court rules by Jensen reflects the enormity of the political stakes. Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tony Evers' redistricting commission launched with a panel of 3 retired judges to review applications," 9 July 2020 Weber visited the United States for three months in 1904 and faced the lurid enormity of capitalism. George Blaustein, The New Republic, "Searching for Consolation in Max Weber’s Work Ethic," 2 July 2020 But the more subdued celebrations do not mask the enormity of the feat. Aimee Lewis, CNN, "Liverpool wins English Premier League for the first time in club's history," 25 June 2020 The enormity of this realization dwarfed my seemingly petty quagmires. Michael Heim, al, "Michael Heim, McGill-Toolen Catholic High School," 19 June 2020 The world has yet to grasp the enormity of the issue at hand. Surendra Patawari, Fortune, "Why COVID-19 is a wake-up call for sustainability," 13 June 2020 Marley writes: The filing of a request to change state court rules by a former Republican legislative leader reflects the enormity of the political stakes. Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'Defund police' in Madison, another commission and UW needs help," 9 June 2020 Sensing the enormity of the moment, Bickerstaff wanted to create a platform for everyone to speak freely about those raw emotions, share their own experiences, voice their concerns and present ideas on the best path forward. Chris Fedor, cleveland, "Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff taking on activist role following George Floyd murder: ’Either you’re for equality or you’re not, there’s no neutral'," 9 June 2020 Biden, from his home TV studio, issued a 2 minute video address to mark the enormity of human loss. Charlotte Alter, Time, "Joe Biden's Empathy Offensive," 2 June 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

17 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Enormity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enormity. Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for enormity


How to pronounce enormity (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of enormity

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on enormity

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for enormity

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with enormity

Spanish Central: Translation of enormity

Nglish: Translation of enormity for Spanish Speakers

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