oblit·​er·​ate ə-ˈbli-tə-ˌrāt How to pronounce obliterate (audio)
obliterated; obliterating

transitive verb

: to remove utterly from recognition or memory
… a successful love crowned all other successes and obliterated all other failures.J. W. Krutch
: to remove from existence : destroy utterly all trace, indication, or significance of
The tide eventually obliterated all evidence of our sandcastles.
medical : to cause (something, such as a bodily part, a scar, or a duct conveying body fluid) to disappear or collapse : remove sense 4
a blood vessel obliterated by inflammation
: to make undecipherable or imperceptible by obscuring or wearing away
A dimness like a fog envelops consciousness / As mist obliterates a crag.Emily Dickinson
: cancel sense 2
obliterate a postage stamp
obliteration noun
obliterator noun

Did you know?

Obliterate has been preserved in our language for centuries, and that’s not nothing! The earliest evidence in our files traces obliterate back to the mid-16th century as a word for removing something from memory. Soon after, English speakers began to use it for the specific act of blotting out or obscuring anything written, and eventually its meaning was generalized to removing anything from existence. In the meantime, physicians began using obliterate for the surgical act of filling or closing up a vessel, cavity, or passage with tissue, which would then cause the bodily part to collapse or disappear. Today obliterate thrives in the English lexicon with the various senses it has acquired over the years, including its final stamp on the language: “to cancel (something, especially a postage stamp).”

Example Sentences

in a stroke, the March snowstorm obliterated our hopes for an early spring
Recent Examples on the Web What is going to bring it back to economic vitality after a pandemic obliterated much of the daytime population? Randy Tucker, The Enquirer, 16 May 2023 Economists on Wall Street and in the White House say a prolonged default could obliterate jobs and lead the country into recession. Zolan Kanno-youngs, BostonGlobe.com, 15 May 2023 Ever since the American Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to successfully swim across the English Channel in 1926, obliterating the existing Channel record by almost two hours, women have remained at the top of the sport. Adam Skolnick, New York Times, 10 May 2023 Erling Haaland keeps obliterating scoring records and keeping Manchester City on the path of a historic season. Jason Gay, wsj.com, 9 May 2023 The Clippers, who shot 52.7% from the floor, obliterated the Blazers in bench scoring (61-27) and produced 19 second-chance points compared to six for the Blazers. Afentres, oregonlive, 9 Apr. 2023 And stack good days the Panthers did in 2022-2023, obliterating whatever measures of success those outside the program might have had for a program that had logged only two winning seasons in the prior decade and none since 2015-2016. Todd Rosiak, Journal Sentinel, 30 Mar. 2023 From that point, the Hornet delivers its extra oomph for 15 seconds, which would be long enough to obliterate the speed limit anywhere in the country. Ezra Dyer, Car and Driver, 22 Mar. 2023 At issue is a plan to extract copper from 2,200 acres of national forest land, a process that Apache people say would obliterate Oak Flat, one of their most sacred spaces. Debra Utacia Krol, The Arizona Republic, 21 Mar. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'obliterate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Latin oblīterātus, oblitterātus, past participle of oblīterāre, oblitterāre "to cause to be forgotten or fall into disuse, make disappear," from ob- "against, facing" + -līterāre, litterāre, verbal derivative of lītera, littera letter entry 1 — more at ob-

Note: The original meaning of oblīterāre was apparently "to wipe out letters, words, etc.," but this sense is not clearly attested in classical Latin. Attested senses appear to have been influenced by oblītus, past participle of oblīvīscī "to forget, put out of mind" (cf. oblivion).

First Known Use

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of obliterate was in 1548


Dictionary Entries Near obliterate

Cite this Entry

“Obliterate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obliterate. Accessed 29 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


oblit·​er·​ate ə-ˈblit-ə-ˌrāt How to pronounce obliterate (audio)
obliterated; obliterating
: to remove or destroy completely : wipe out
obliteration noun

Medical Definition


transitive verb
oblit·​er·​ate ə-ˈblit-ə-ˌrāt, ō- How to pronounce obliterate (audio)
obliterated; obliterating
: to cause to disappear (as a bodily part or a scar) or collapse (as a duct conveying body fluid)
a blood vessel obliterated by inflammation
obliteration noun

More from Merriam-Webster on obliterate

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