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 nearly 1,000-year-old manuscript, penned by King Sverre of Norway, described various beasts of the deep but the kraken stood out for its enormity. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Legend, the History and the Science Behind Seattle’s New Hockey Team Name," 24 July 2020 This is why, if anything, people in San Antonio might tend to downplay the enormity of the task now awaiting the Spurs. Mike Finger, ExpressNews.com, "Finger: Strangers to suffering, Spurs hope to keep it that way," 15 Aug. 2020 In a survey of nearly 500 Black Americans, many described being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task amplified by the pandemic. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, "Building a better world, one boot camp at a time," 11 Aug. 2020 Sovacool doubts the pressure, the enormity of the U.S. Amateur, will be too much for Potter. John Maffei, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Encinitas teen Luke Potter not fazed by being youngest golfer in U.S. Amateur," 10 Aug. 2020 Before long, however, the enormity of the situation sank in. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, "What We Can Learn From 1918 Influenza Diaries," 13 Apr. 2020 Her attack was full of youthful, energetic certainty, which is appropriate, and expressing the enormity of my sadness and anger would have been in no way appropriate. Sarah Miller, Longreads, "What Do We Do With Feelings Now That They Don’t Matter Anymore?," 11 Mar. 2020 Piercing that sense of invulnerability — making the enormity of the COVID-19 disaster seem real — isn’t only Rezba’s mission. Nina Martin, ProPublica, "Nobody Accurately Tracks Health Care Workers Lost to COVID-19. So She Stays Up At Night Cataloging the Dead.," 2 Aug. 2020 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

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

15 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Enormity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enormity. Accessed 25 Sep. 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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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for enormity

Nglish: Translation of enormity for Spanish Speakers

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