pro·​lif·​er·​ate | \ prə-ˈli-fə-ˌrāt How to pronounce proliferate (audio) \
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 How to pronounce proliferation (audio) \ noun
proliferative \ prə-​ˈli-​fə-​ˌrā-​tiv How to pronounce proliferative (audio) , prə-​ˈli-​f(ə-​)rə-​tiv How to pronounce proliferative (audio) \ 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 As these observations proliferated, so did the conviction that there must be many different elements. Neima Jahromi, The New Yorker, "The Histories Hidden in the Periodic Table," 27 Dec. 2019 As those electric aircraft proliferate over the coming decades, aviation enthusiasts will be able to test-fly an air taxi at home before getting on board, and see their houses from up there, too. Eric Adams, Wired, "Bing Maps Make the Revived Flight Simulator Eerily Realistic," 15 Dec. 2019 Inside the Creation of Knives Out, One of the Most Unexpectedly Subversive Films of the Year As male Marvel superhero movies proliferated, the absence of a Black Widow film felt like an increasingly glaring omission. Eliana Dockterman, Time, "Breaking Down the First Black Widow Trailer," 3 Dec. 2019 As pass-heavy spread attacks have proliferated throughout the country, run-first offenses still have a home with many of the best programs in Colorado. Matt Schubert, The Denver Post, "In Colorado, “Dinosaur Age” alive and well at state prep football championships," 3 Dec. 2019 In the brutally competitive world of retail, maintaining that special place in a customer’s heart seems to get exponentially harder every year, as online offerings proliferate and e-mail inboxes overflow with the latest bargains., "This month, Stuart and Barry Segel, the second generation brother-owners of the store, which has locations in Newton Centre and the Seaport, unveiled Sidney, the company’s first line of made-to-measure suiting for both men and women.," 22 Nov. 2019 As these new technologies proliferate, biases can appear almost anywhere. New York Times, "We Teach A.I. Systems Everything, Including Our Biases," 11 Nov. 2019 But as images both real and fake have proliferated, their volume has become oppressive. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Video Games Are Better Without Game-Play," 22 Oct. 2019 As child labor proliferated in the 19th century, so too did the children who striked against exploitative working conditions. Soraya Roberts, Longreads, "Grow Up," 29 Sep. 2019

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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Time Traveler for proliferate

Time Traveler

The first known use of proliferate was in 1866

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Statistics for proliferate

Last Updated

9 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Proliferate.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 19 January 2020.

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More Definitions for proliferate


How to pronounce proliferate (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of proliferate

: to increase in number or amount quickly


pro·​lif·​er·​ate | \ prə-ˈlif-ə-ˌrāt How to pronounce proliferate (audio) \
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

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


to insert between existing elements

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