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

So, not only are full sticker-shock price workarounds proliferating, havens of higher learning are sinking more of their incoming dollars in ways that project themselves as sports palaces rather than academic institutions. Eric Scott,, "Column: Spending sprees stray from colleges’ true missions," 31 Aug. 2019 Cyanobacteria occur naturally in many freshwater systems and can proliferate rapidly under the right conditions of shallow water, warm weather, plentiful sunshine and still, nutrient-rich water. Mercury News Staff And Wire Reports, The Mercury News, "Toxic algae warnings issued for some Bay Area lakes," 30 Aug. 2019 Here, too, human activities — the creation of rice paddies, raising of huge numbers of sheep and goats, and landfilling organic material that then rots — have helped the methane-belching microbes proliferate. Irina Ivanova, CBS News, "Who are the biggest U.S. methane emitters?," 30 Aug. 2019 At first glance, the 28-story tower in Hong Kong doesn’t stand out too much from its neighbors in the Admiralty neighborhood, where local government buildings and luxury malls proliferate. Adam Taylor, Washington Post, "Amid Hong Kong protests, a garrison troop rotation raises fears about the Chinese military," 29 Aug. 2019 That was the first of many lies I was forced to carry for him, the weight of which proliferated my trauma. Emanuella Grinberg, CNN, "Jeffrey Epstein's accusers had their day in court, but not in the way they had hoped for," 27 Aug. 2019 Just because everyone covers their eyes or looks the other way, doesn’t mean evil isn’t proliferating. Carlos Aguilar, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Review: Argentine white-collar crime drama ‘Rojo’ revels in 1970s corruption and style," 22 Aug. 2019 Incurable diseases provoke more cures than curable ones: when the black plague reigned, leaves and ritual burnings proliferated to protect you, even if none could. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "The Summer of Shark Politics on Cape Cod," 22 Aug. 2019 Unlike other areas of the state where charters have proliferated, the school system has received few applications from individuals, nonprofits or for-profit charter operators to locate a school in the county. Liz Bowie,, "Baltimore County school board grants final approval for Watershed Charter School to open in September," 21 Aug. 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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Statistics for proliferate

Last Updated

4 Sep 2019

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 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).


readily or continually undergoing change

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