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 Magic shows proliferate around the holiday season, maybe because the whole notion of a holiday season that needs celebrating is one more con. Alexis Soloski, New York Times, "Holiday Magic: Fooled and Fooled and Fooled Again," 6 Dec. 2019 Social media users quickly criticized Peloton for supposedly peddling negative body images and proliferating unhealthy marital dynamics. Megan Cerullo, CBS News, "Peloton holiday ad sparks heated debate on social media over body imagery," 4 Dec. 2019 In an era of social media and fluid, proliferating channels of communication and exchange, the idea of friendship seems almost quaint, and possibly imperiled. Hua Hsu, The New Yorker, "What Jacques Derrida Understood About Friendship," 3 Dec. 2019 The desal business is booming in arid and water-stressed regions around the world, with plants proliferating to supply cities in Israel, Jordan and Egypt, as well as Spain, Singapore and South Africa. Ian James, azcentral, "In the Middle East, countries spend heavily to transform seawater into drinking water," 29 Nov. 2019 Meanwhile, privacy critics argue that given how quickly facial recognition is proliferating both public and private life and how little oversight exists to curtail it, there’s little reason to trust it at all. Amrita Khalid, Quartz, "Privacy concerns aside, consumers are already opting in to facial recognition," 26 Nov. 2019 As proliferating baby heirs knocked Andrew further down the royal line, the project was his own bid for personal relevance and public accomplishment. Simon Usborne, Town & Country, "The Royal Family Has Lost Control of the Message," 23 Nov. 2019 And the reactions of the people around Kellee who lured her into a false sense of security and protection are perfectly paralleled in the reactions that so often protect and proliferate the misconduct of those in power in the real world. Jodi Walker,, "The Survivor controversy exemplifies how the show reflects society — for better or worse: Opinion," 14 Nov. 2019 Streets were clogged that day: buses and one subway station were set on fire; the corporate building of Enel, Chile’s main energy company, was burning; and footage of violent clashes between police officers and protesters proliferated. Andrea Miliani, Teen Vogue, "How the Protests in Chile Escalated: From Subway Fare Hike to National Revolution," 30 Oct. 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

11 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Proliferate.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 15 December 2019.

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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).


delight or enjoyment

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