Definition of decimate in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈdɛsɪmeɪt/


[with object]
1Kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of: the inhabitants of the country had been decimated
More example sentences
  • A University of Sydney researcher is claiming up to a third of our snake species could be decimated.
  • The idea grew out of an effort to save highly endangered Micronesian kingfishers in Guam, where many bird species had been decimated by a brown snake invasion.
  • Prior to 1990 the species had been decimated by a combination of habitat loss and capture of birds for the pet trade, and was considered extinct in the wild.
1.1Drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something): public transport has been decimated
More example sentences
  • How can any honest American still follow this clown, he has decimated the economy and strength of our country, every American should be outraged
  • Fiscal infrastructure decimated by the effects of war.
  • The fear of the virus has decimated the tourist trade to South East Asia, with Singapore bearing the brunt of the cancellations.
2 historical Kill one in every ten of (a group of people, originally a mutinous Roman legion) as a punishment for the whole group: the man who is to determine whether it be necessary to decimate a large body of mutineers
More example sentences
  • Augustus firmly imposed his discipline on his men: he once dismissed an entire legion in disgrace, and didn't hesitate to decimate troops who would give in to the enemy.


Historically, the meaning of the word decimate is ‘kill one in every ten of (a group of people)’. This sense has been more or less totally superseded by the later, more general sense ‘kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of’, as in the virus has decimated the population. Some traditionalists argue that this is incorrect, but it is clear that it is now part of standard English.





Late Middle English: from Latin decimat- 'taken as a tenth', from the verb decimare, from decimus 'tenth'. In Middle English the term decimation denoted the levying of a tithe, and later the tax imposed by Cromwell on the Royalists (1655).

  • When Roman legions mutinied, they would be decimated—one in every ten men would be selected by lot and executed. In its first recorded use in English, in the late 16th century, decimate refers to this practice, but by the mid 17th century people were using it of other acts of killing, destroying, or removing one in ten. They then lost sight of the military context, and soon any severe loss or destruction could be described as decimation. See also decade

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: deci|mate

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