Many people, including usage commentators, are insistent about keeping the adjectives "precipitate" and "precipitous" distinct. "Precipitate," they say, means "headlong" or "impetuous"; "precipitous" means only "steep." And, indeed, "precipitate" is used mostly in the "headlong" sense, whereas "precipitous" usually means "steep." But one shouldn't be too hasty about insisting on the distinction. The truth is that "precipitate" and "precipitous" have had a tendency to overlap for centuries. Lexicographer Samuel Johnson, in his dictionary of 1755, defined "precipitate" as "steeply falling," "headlong," and "hasty," while "precipitous" was "headlong; steep," and "hasty." Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary included much the same definitions. The words' etymologies overlap as well. Both ultimately come from Latin praeceps, which means "headlong."
precipitate stresses lack of due deliberation and implies prematureness of action.
the army's precipitate withdrawal
headlong stresses rashness and lack of forethought.
a headlong flight from arrest
abrupt stresses curtness and a lack of warning or ceremony.
an abrupt refusal
impetuous stresses extreme impatience or impulsiveness.
an impetuous lover proposing marriage
sudden stresses unexpectedness and sharpness or violence of action.
flew into a sudden rage
Examples of precipitate in a Sentence
VerbWhen Achilles is informed by his mother, the sea-goddess Thetis, that vanquishing Hector on the battlefield will precipitate his own demise, he unhesitatingly opts for the gusto.—Mark Leyner, Time, 13 Nov. 2000The vast room darkens. The videotape … begins on two identical screens set high above the nave. The soaring lyrics of LeeAnn Rimes's "How Do I Live (Without You)" precipitate a collective tension and welling, repressed tearfulness.—Jayne Anne Phillips, Harper's, November 1998
Her death precipitated a family crisis.
The budget problem was precipitated by many unexpected costs.
minerals that precipitate from seawater NounYet trained, and by nature inclined, to persevere through the stenches, messes, explosions and disasters of a laboratory, he fixed his gaze upon an unlikely precipitate: human resilience, a sort of radioactive trace element.—Richard Eder, New York Times Book Review, 16 June 2002
the exodus from the cities was an unexpected precipitate of the automobile, which effectively shrank distances
the chemist filtered out the precipitate from the solution AdjectiveThe precipitate decline in support for Aristide has probably less to do with Haiti's political crisis than with the continuous and unrelenting economic battering: the Haitian gourde, which a year ago was trading at 27 to the dollar, by late February was down to 55 to the dollar.—Peter Dailey, New York Review of Books, 27 Mar. 2002Almost at once I began to remember why drive-ins went into such a precipitate decline. To begin with, it is not remotely comfortable to sit in a car to watch a movie.—Bill Bryson, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999Assuming that the offering goes ahead—and only a precipitate slide in the stock market will stop it—a big slice of Wall Street history will disappear.—John Cassidy, New Yorker, 8 Mar. 1999
the army's precipitate withdrawal from the field of battle See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Aid workers and officials fear that Israel's call for an evacuation of the northern part of Gaza is precipitating a humanitarian disaster as electricity and other supplies have been cut off in preparation for what appears to be an imminent ground offensive.—Abc News, ABC News, 5 Nov. 2023 But the issue recently has received limited attention on Capitol Hill, where Republicans remain fiercely opposed to significant new financial regulation more than a decade after the collapse of the nation’s banks precipitated the Great Recession.—Tony Romm, Washington Post, 28 Oct. 2023 This is more common in the elderly and can be precipitated by sudden changes in position, dehydration, infections, bleeding, certain medications and diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes.—Smithsonian Magazine, 25 Oct. 2023 Populations were also divided elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, precipitating bloody conflict.—Robert Hornsby, Foreign Affairs, 24 Oct. 2023 The Roman Empire, for example, unraveled during a spasm of volcanic explosions, which led to a period of cooling that precipitated the first pandemic of bubonic plague.—WIRED, 21 Oct. 2023 Of course, Fleming was dismissing the ghost of the housing crash of 2008 that precipitated the Great Financial Crisis, when subprime mortgages and other shoddy lending practices were common.—Will Daniel, Fortune, 19 Oct. 2023 The Tuesday attack, apparently precipitated by a dispute between two groups, injured five people, including four students, authorities said.—Dennis Romero, NBC News, 8 Oct. 2023 An angry Angelique vows revenge and curses Barnabas into becoming a vampire, which precipitates a volatile love-hate relationship that lasts over multiple centuries.—Valerie Wu, Variety, 16 Oct. 2023
Could that aforementioned depth precipitate more 4-3 looks this year?—Eric Walden, The Salt Lake Tribune, 14 Aug. 2023 Specific metals are then extracted using a series of electrified filters, producing a nickel-cobalt product, mixed hydroxide precipitate.—Sue Kiesewetter, The Enquirer, 27 July 2023 Every summer, calcium carbonate precipitates from the lake’s warming water and falls to the lakebed, creating a visible barrier between each year of sediment.—Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 July 2023 Much of the warm, moist air precipitates between the entrance of the valley, at around 1,350 meters, and the village of Lama Hotel at 2,480 meters.—Walter Immerzeel, Scientific American, 1 Jan. 2021 If the alkalinity gets too high, a chemical precipitate forms which can be toxic to ocean plankton.—Eric Niiler, WSJ, 6 Mar. 2022 Our allies are rightly upset, blaming the U.S. for a precipitate, unilateral withdrawal that missed the opportunity for any coordinated plan to preserve some of the gains made in the country.—Angelina Jolie, Time, 20 Aug. 2021 Does the mere act of making banks and other companies reveal their carbon footprint precipitate progress on eliminating climate risk?—Tim McDonnell, Quartz, 21 May 2021 Although, the dusty precipitate may be melting away with the morning sun, the snow may have left a lasting impression on our local record books.—Jared Boyd, AL.com, 9 Dec. 2017
An additional factor that has been increasingly in the mix is that old and deteriorating dam infrastructure can fail amidst excessive rainfall events and precipitate catastrophic flooding.—Sarah Raza, BostonGlobe.com, 12 Sep. 2023 Those updates references – and the series of chases, Rube Goldberg mechanisms, and bits of derring-do they all precipitate – also allowed the filmmaking to push their formal boundaries.—Ben Croll, Variety, 14 June 2023 Many writers, mostly men, continue to rely on rape as a nuclear option for female characters, a tool with which to impassion viewers, precipitate drama, and stir up controversy.—Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, 4 May 2021 This is all to the good, and better than a precipitate total withdrawal.—The Editors, National Review, 22 Aug. 2017 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'precipitate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Verb and Adjective
Latin praecipitatus, past participle of praecipitare, from praecipit-, praeceps — see precipice