sub·​li·​mate | \ˈsə-blə-ˌmāt \
sublimated; sublimating

Definition of sublimate 

(Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : sublime sense 1

b archaic : to improve or refine as if by subliming

2 : to divert the expression of (an instinctual desire or impulse) from its unacceptable form to one that is considered more socially or culturally acceptable

intransitive verb

: to pass directly from the solid to the vapor state : sublime


sub·​li·​mate | \ˈsə-blə-ˌmāt, -mət\

Definition of sublimate (Entry 2 of 2)

: a chemical product obtained by sublimation

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Other Words from sublimate


sublimation \ˌsə-​blə-​ˈmā-​shən \ noun

Sublime vs. Sublimate

At first glance, the question of whether sublime and sublimate are related might seem like an easy one to answer, as they appear to come from the same source. However, the most common senses in which each of these words is used today are dissimilar enough to give pause. The two words are indeed related, and in some senses are in fact synonymous. Both share the meaning “to cause to pass directly from the solid to the vapor state and condense back to solid form,” although this is not widely used except among chemists. Sublime was first used as a verb with the above meaning, and after a century or two of such use took on the adjectival role in which it is often found today (“the concert was a sublime experience”). Sublimate has had several meanings as a verb (including “to elevate to a place of honor” and “to give a more elevated character to”) before coming to its common meaning today, which is “to divert the expression of (an instinctual desire or impulse) from its unacceptable form to one that is considered more socially or culturally acceptable.”

Did You Know?


To sublimate is to change the form, but not the essence. Physically speaking, it means to transform solid to vapor; psychologically, it means changing the outlet, or means, of expression from something base and inappropriate to something more positive or acceptable. The word sublimate comes from the Latin verb sublimare, which means "to lift up" or "raise" and which is also the ancestor of our sublime. "Sublimate" itself once meant "to elevate to a place of dignity or honor" or "to give a more elevated character to," but these meanings are now obsolete.

Examples of sublimate in a Sentence


She sublimated her erotic feelings into a series of paintings. I sublimated my grief at the death of my mother by throwing myself into my work.

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Politics, once sublimated in her abstractions, bubbles up to the surface. James Panero, WSJ, "Seeing Her Worldview in a Circle," 1 Sep. 2018 In the 1960s, battles among boomers were mostly sublimated in the overall boomer rebellion against their elders—their authority, their ways and their war. Lance Morrow, WSJ, "The Trump War Is a Boomer Battle," 27 Aug. 2018 But that's not enough to overcome the extremely low pressures of the Martian atmosphere, which would cause any ice to sublimate off into vapor instead of melting. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Possible lake spotted under a polar ice cap—on Mars," 25 July 2018 For a long time, it was generally supposed that sports rivalries harmlessly sublimated national antagonisms. Larry Wolff, WSJ, "Croatia Offers Redemption for Eastern Europe," 13 July 2018 Subjected to the low temps and low-pressure atmosphere of the freeze-drier, its water sublimates away, leaving fruit that’s light, bright and intensely flavored. Leah Eskin,, "Re-create Popsicle dreams with fresh strawberries — and powerful boost from freeze-dried version," 11 July 2018 As their highly elliptical trajectories take them near the sun, some of that ice starts to sublimate, forming a trailing cloud of gas and dust that is illuminated by sunlight. Amina Khan,, "'Oumuamua, the mysterious visitor from outside the solar system, is a comet after all," 28 June 2018 So the idea was to have the three or four products that in a flash help sublimate a face with very simple and spontaneous gestures. Sarah Spellings, The Cut, "L’Oréal Collaborates With Ultimate French Tastemaker," 14 June 2018 Because nitrogen is a volatile chemical, some of it sublimates and gives Pluto a tenuous atmosphere still thick enough to be more than an exosphere. John Wenz, Popular Mechanics, "Here's What We Know About Pluto So Far," 17 July 2015

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

An initially smooth snowpack sublimates at different rates in different spots, causing small pits to form in some places. Mike Wall,, "Jupiter Moon Europa's Jagged Ice Towers Could Imperil Robot Landers," 8 Oct. 2018 The slopes are probably being continuously exposed as the ice sublimates into the Martian atmosphere, likely to cycle up to the poles and end up frozen there. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Large sheets of ice may have been spotted on Mars," 11 Jan. 2018

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


1559, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a


circa 1626, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sublimate


Middle English, from Medieval Latin sublimatus, past participle of sublimare

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Last Updated

29 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for sublimate

The first known use of sublimate was in 1559

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More Definitions for sublimate



English Language Learners Definition of sublimate

psychology : to express a desire or feeling by changing it into a form that is socially acceptable


sub·​li·​mate | \ˈsəb-lə-ˌmāt, -mət \

Medical Definition of sublimate 

(Entry 1 of 2)

2 : a chemical product obtained by sublimation


transitive verb
sub·​li·​mate | \ˈsəb-lə-ˌmāt \
sublimated; sublimating

Medical Definition of sublimate (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : sublime

2 : to divert the expression of (an instinctual desire or impulse) from its unacceptable form to one that is considered more socially or culturally acceptable

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More from Merriam-Webster on sublimate

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sublimate

Spanish Central: Translation of sublimate

Nglish: Translation of sublimate for Spanish Speakers

Comments on sublimate

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


living or existing for a long time

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