[ verb uh-duhl-tuh-reyt; adjective uh-duhl-ter-it, -tuh-reyt ]
/ verb əˈdʌl təˌreɪt; adjective əˈdʌl tər ɪt, -təˌreɪt /
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See synonyms for: adulterate / adulterated / adulterator on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object), a·dul·ter·at·ed, a·dul·ter·at·ing.

to debase or make impure by adding inferior materials or elements; use cheaper, inferior, or less desirable goods in the production of (any professedly genuine article): to adulterate food.


impure or debased; cheapened in quality or purity.



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Origin of adulterate

1580–90; <Latin adulterātus mixed, adulterated (past participle of adulterāre), equivalent to ad-ad- + -ulter (perhaps combining form of alter other; see alter) + -ātus-ate1


a·dul·ter·a·tor, nounun·a·dul·ter·ate, adjective


adulterer, adulterate
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does adulterate mean?

To adulterate means to make something impure or alter its original form by adding materials or elements that aren’t usually part of it, especially inferior ones.

Adulterate is commonly used in the context of food preparation and manufacturing in reference to the contamination of food products with additives that make them impure in some way. There are laws against this, especially when the ingredients added may be harmful to people’s health. It can also be used in a less serious way to refer to adding ingredients thought to be unnecessary, as in I would never adulterate coffee with sugar or cream.

Adulterate is also commonly used in a more general way to refer to any action that alters something in a way that people think makes it impure or inferior.

The noun form of adulterate is adulteration. The past tense form adulterated can also be used as an adjective, as in Officials confiscated the adulterated foods. Less commonly, adulterate itself can also be used as an adjective in the same way.

Example: Some sellers were caught adulterating the spices by adding fillers.

Where does adulterate come from?

The first records of adulterate come from the 1500s. It derives from the Latin verb adulterāre, meaning “to corrupt.”

Adulterate is most commonly used in the context of food products, but it can be applied to any situation in which inferior ingredients are added, such as to medicines, cosmetics, and fuel. In a lot of cases, products are adulterated by adding materials to make them look better (like the addition of chalk powder to flour to make it look whiter) or by adding filler so that less of the product can be sold at the same price (as in the addition of brick powder to chili powder). Many forms of adulteration can be dangerous, especially because they involve things we put into our body (food and medicine) or on our skin (cosmetics). For that reason, the ingredients of things are often regulated by governments to make sure that harmful adulteration isn’t taking place. Adulterate is always used negatively because doing so can be harmful and it’s generally associated with cutting costs to make more money. But it’s sometimes used more casually to refer to “ruining” the original form of a food by adding other ingredients.

Adulterate can also be applied to abstract or intangible things thought to have been contaminated or made impure in some way, as in This amendment would adulterate our constitution or The remake is an adulterated version of the original.

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What are some other forms related to adulterate?

  • adulteration (noun)
  • adulterated (past tense verb, adjective)

What are some synonyms for adulterate?

What are some words that share a root or word element with adulterate


What are some words that often get used in discussing adulterate?

How is adulterate used in real life?

Adulterate is always used negatively to imply that something has been made impure or worse in some way. It’s most commonly used in the context of food.



Try using adulterate!

Which of the following words is LEAST likely to describe something that has been adulterated?

A. contaminated
B. tarnished
C. pure
D. tainted

Example sentences from the Web for adulterate

British Dictionary definitions for adulterate


verb (əˈdʌltəˌreɪt)

(tr) to debase by adding inferior materialto adulterate milk with water

adjective (əˈdʌltərɪt, -ˌreɪt)

adulterated; debased or impure
a less common word for adulterous

Derived forms of adulterate

adulteration, nounadulterator, noun

Word Origin for adulterate

C16: from Latin adulterāre to corrupt, commit adultery, probably from alter another, hence to approach another, commit adultery
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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