es·​ca·​late ˈe-skə-ˌlāt How to pronounce escalate (audio)
-skyə- How to pronounce escalate (audio)
escalated; escalating

intransitive verb

: to increase in extent, volume, number, amount, intensity, or scope
a little war threatens to escalate into a huge ugly one Arnold Abrams
ˌe-skə-ˈlā-shən How to pronounce escalate (audio)
 nonstandard  -skyə-
ˈe-skə-lə-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce escalate (audio)
 nonstandard  -skyə-

Example Sentences

The conflict has escalated into an all-out war. a time of escalating tensions We are trying not to escalate the violence. Salaries of leading executives have continued to escalate. The cold weather has escalated fuel prices.
Recent Examples on the Web The record numbers of migrants caught crossing the border illegally come as Republican governors escalate a campaign to send migrants to Democratic strongholds. Michelle Hackman, WSJ, 19 Sep. 2022 The attacks come as tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalate since Vladimir Putin's annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Andrea Vacchiano, Fox News, 13 Oct. 2022 The correct strategy will be to ensure that tensions do not escalate into conflict, while capitalizing on Xi’s missteps to bolster American power. Michael Schuman, The Atlantic, 26 Sep. 2022 If concerns escalate to what officials consider to be an emergency level, the commission could have the power to compel companies to provide information about their businesses. Kim Mackrael, WSJ, 19 Sep. 2022 The schism between Batman and Catwoman grows ever larger as both escalate their separate wars on crime, threatening dire consequences for both. Todd Spangler, Variety, 14 Sep. 2022 The Biden administration on Friday announced a more than $1 billion arms sale to Taiwan as U.S.-China tensions escalate over the status of the island. Matthew Lee, ajc, 2 Sep. 2022 The disruption at airliners came as tensions escalate between the US and China while companies are grappling with global supply-chain snags sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Fortune, 3 Aug. 2022 Heading into the fourth night of mandatory evacuations Monday, Poisall said, the shelter is preparing for additional overnighters as the financial burden of an unplanned hotel stay can quickly escalate. Grace Toohey, Los Angeles Times, 25 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'escalate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


back-formation from escalator

First Known Use

1944, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of escalate was in 1944

Dictionary Entries Near escalate

Cite this Entry

“Escalate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



es·​ca·​late ˈes-kə-ˌlāt How to pronounce escalate (audio)
escalated; escalating
: to increase in extent, volume, or scope : expand
escalate prices
escalation noun

More from Merriam-Webster on escalate

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.