enor·​mi·​ty | \i-ˈnȯr-mə-tē \
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

This conclusion captures the enormity of the statement. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "Trump’s Khashoggi statement is a green light for murder," 20 Nov. 2018 The enormity of the renovation would have driven many to drink. Bruce Schreiner, The Seattle Times, "Newcomers bring decaying Kentucky distillery back to life," 18 Sep. 2018 Many people get stuck on choosing a guardian because of the enormity of this issue. Mp Dunleavey, Woman's Day, "6 Things You Need to Know About Making a Will," 23 May 2011 Platforms frequently, and conspicuously, fail to live up to our expectations—in fact, given the enormity of the undertaking, most platforms’ own definition of success includes failing users on a regular basis. Tarleton Gillespie, WIRED, "How Social Networks Set the Limits of What We Can Say Online," 26 June 2018 Nothing seems to fit the enormity of this moment for us. Fox News, "Girl, 4, with cerebral palsy takes first steps in emotional video," 4 July 2018 Trump, just back in Washington after his historic sitdown in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, blasted the press - and two TV news organizations in particular - for failing to grasp the enormity of the event. Brooke Singman, Fox News, "Trump calls 'fake news media' America's biggest enemy in wake of Singapore summit," 13 June 2018 In the years building up to the first-ever World Cup in Russia, organizers loved to remind people that this was a chance to showcase everything about this country: from its cuisine to its culture to its sheer enormity. Joshua Robinson, WSJ, "Russia Knocks Out Spain in Shootout," 1 July 2018 Rhodes’s optimism is clearly strained by the enormity of the challenge posed by climate change. New York Times, "A History of the Energy We Have Consumed," 18 June 2018

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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Statistics for enormity

Last Updated

5 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for enormity

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

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English Language Learners Definition of enormity

: a shocking, evil, or immoral act

: great evil or wickedness

: great size

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More from Merriam-Webster on enormity

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with enormity

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for enormity

Spanish Central: Translation of enormity

Nglish: Translation of enormity for Spanish Speakers

Comments on enormity

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to make faulty or ineffective

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