es·ca·late | \ ˈe-skə-ˌlāt , nonstandard -skyə- \
escalated; escalating

Definition of escalate 

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other words from escalate

escalation \ˌe-skə-ˈlā-shən, nonstandard-skyə- \ noun
escalatory \ˈe-skə-lə-ˌtȯr-ē, nonstandard-skyə- \ adjective

Examples of escalate in a Sentence

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.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Another potential influencing factor could be what some experts see as an escalating trade war. Seth Slabaugh, Indianapolis Star, "Sen. Joe Donnelly needs to keep his pro-Trump voters. But can he?," 12 July 2018 Beijing, meanwhile, has unveiled measures to help Chinese companies absorb the U.S. trade blows, pledging to funnel money collected from its own import levies to firms and workers tangled in the escalating trade war. Danielle Paquette,, "U.S. proposes tariffs on $200 billion more in Chinese imports," 11 July 2018 The escalating trade war with China caused stocks and commodities to slide in markets worldwide. Erik Wasson / Bloomberg, Time, "Senate Approves Symbolic Resolution in Attempt to Curb President Trump's Mounting Tariffs," 11 July 2018 Add in slowing economic growth, an escalating trade war, and a reduction in businesses ability to respond based on higher resource costs, capacity constraints and less immigrant labor and a recession by 2020 is highly likely. Phillip Molnar,, "Is a flattening yield curve a sign of a coming recession?," 6 July 2018 The escalating trade war recently rattling Wall Street revives a debate over protectionist policies that can be traced to the first major piece of legislation passed under the U.S. Constitution, the Tariff Act of 1789. Tim Sullivan, The Courier-Journal, "However polarized our politics seem, America has made it through worse," 3 July 2018 Trump visits North Dakota as new economic data show the state falling behind its Midwestern neighbors amid concerns about an escalating trade war with China. Samuel Chamberlain, Fox News, "Trump rallies for GOP Senate candidate Kevin Cramer in North Dakota," 27 June 2018 Harley-Davidson had long planned to open a new plant in Thailand, a decision that pre-dated the escalating trade war between Trump and leaders of a number of other countries. Damian Paletta,, "President Trump threatens Harley-Davidson with taxes ‘like never before’," 26 June 2018 Neither side is willing to stand down unilaterally in an escalating war of words. The Economist, "American political rhetoric is sliding towards the sewer," 21 June 2018

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.

See More

First Known Use of escalate

1944, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for escalate

back-formation from escalator

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about escalate

Statistics for escalate

Last Updated

16 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for escalate

The first known use of escalate was in 1944

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for escalate



English Language Learners Definition of escalate

: to become worse or to make (something) worse or more severe

: to become greater or higher or to make (something) greater or higher

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on escalate

What made you want to look up escalate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Food Quiz

True or False

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


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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