pro·lif·er·ate | \ prə-ˈli-fə-ˌrāt \
proliferated; proliferating

Definition of proliferate 

intransitive verb

1 : to grow by rapid production of new parts, cells, buds, or offspring

2 : to increase in number as if by proliferating : multiply

transitive verb

1 : to cause to grow by proliferating

2 : to cause to increase in number or extent as if by proliferating

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Other words from proliferate

proliferation \prə-ˌli-fə-ˈrā-shən \ noun
proliferative \prə-ˈli-fə-ˌrā-tiv, prə-ˈli-f(ə-)rə-tiv \ adjective

Did You Know?

Proliferate came about in 1873 as a back-formation of "proliferation." That means that "proliferation" came first (we borrowed it from French in the 1850s) and was later shortened to form the verb "proliferate." Ultimately these terms come from Latin. The French adjective prolifère ("reproducing freely") comes from the Latin noun proles and the Latin combining form "-fer." Proles means "offspring" or "descendants," and -fer means "bearing." Both of these Latin forms gave rise to numerous other English words. "Prolific" and "proletarian" ultimately come from "proles"; "aquifer" and words ending in "-ferous" have their roots in "-fer."

Examples of proliferate in a Sentence

rumors about the incident proliferated on the Internet

Recent Examples on the Web

Crypto hedge funds have proliferated over the last 18 months, with an estimated 100 new ones launching in 2017. Erin Griffith, WIRED, "A Merger That Would Have Made Crypto Investing Easier Fails," 19 June 2018 In imposing sanctions on Gen. Kim, the Treasury Department cited his agency’s role in proliferating conventional weapons. Michael C. Bender, WSJ, "Trump Expects ‘Very Positive’ Special Delivery From North Korea," 1 June 2018 Companies that offer discounts to National Rifle Association members, including Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc., have cut ties to the lobbying group after calls for a boycott proliferated on social media. Beth Mellor,, "Dick’s to End Sales of Assault-Style Rifles After Parkland," 28 Feb. 2018 The group is carrying out its task to help proliferate bluegrass music here in eastern Connecticut. Courant Community, "Community News For The Putnam-Killingly Edition," 10 July 2018 Surrealist touches in the Monday show — from the sound of buzzing insects to faces obscured by flowers, and padlocks — proliferated in designs that moved from narrow fitted jackets for daywear to smoldering liquid satin draping for the night. Thomas Adamson, The Seattle Times, "Dior celebrates the atelier, draws celebs to Paris couture," 2 July 2018 Stories of migrant children mixed into the adult jail population proliferated in the local press of borderland communities, often prompting public outcry. Brianna Nofil, Time, "Family Separation Is Officially Over, but History Suggests the U.S. Won't Find a Good Solution for Migrant Children," 28 June 2018 Family offices are proliferating in the region and tycoons like Li Ka-shing are starting to hand over their empires to their sons and daughters., "Trillion Dollar Inheritance: The World’s Biggest Family Fortunes," 27 June 2018 Stoltenberg said the world faced ‘‘the most unpredictable security environment in a generation’’ due to terrorism, proliferating weapons of mass destruction, cyberattacks, and an assertive Russia. Jill Lawless,, "NATO head: No guarantee trans-Atlantic alliance will survive," 22 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'proliferate.' 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 proliferate

1866, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

History and Etymology for proliferate

back-formation from proliferation, from French prolifération, from proliférer to proliferate, from prolifère reproducing freely, from Latin proles + -fer -ferous

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Statistics for proliferate

Last Updated

18 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for proliferate

The first known use of proliferate was in 1866

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More Definitions for proliferate



English Language Learners Definition of proliferate

: to increase in number or amount quickly


pro·lif·er·ate | \ prə-ˈlif-ə-ˌrāt \
proliferated; proliferating

Medical Definition of proliferate 

intransitive verb

: to grow by rapid production of new parts, cells, buds, or offspring

transitive verb

: to cause to grow by proliferating

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Comments on proliferate

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the setting in which something occurs

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