[ des-uh-meyt ]
See synonyms for decimate on
verb (used with object),dec·i·mat·ed, dec·i·mat·ing.
  1. to kill or destroy a great number or proportion of: The population was decimated by a plague.

  2. to greatly reduce in number or amount: From 1975-1981, our country was not driving the space exploration agenda, and our aerospace workforce was decimated.

  1. to cause to suffer great loss or harm: The constant eruptions that spewed forth decimated the forest and turned it to ash.

  2. to select by lot and kill every tenth person of.

  3. Obsolete. to take a tenth of or from.

Origin of decimate

First recorded in 1590–1600; from Latin decimātus, past participle of decimāre “to punish every tenth man chosen by lot,” verbal derivative of decimus “tenth,” derivative of decem “ten”; see ten, -ate1

word story For decimate

The earliest English sense of decimate is “to select by lot and execute every tenth soldier of (a unit).” The extended senses “to destroy a great proportion of; greatly reduce or damage” have been criticized on etymological grounds, although these usages are common in standard English: Cholera decimated the urban population. Because the etymological sense of one-tenth remains to some extent, decimate is not ordinarily used with exact fractions or percentages: Drought has destroyed (not decimated ) nearly 80 percent of the cattle.

Other words from decimate

  • dec·i·ma·tion [des-uh-mey-shuhn], /ˌdɛs əˈmeɪ ʃən/, noun
  • dec·i·ma·tor, noun

Words that may be confused with decimate

  • decimate , destroy (see word story at the current entry) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use decimate in a sentence

  • Destructive lumbering, usually followed by devastating forest fires, was fast decimating the virgin pine forests.

    Our National Forests | Richard H. Douai Boerker
  • So as she worked and planted, unavoidably decimating a worm here and turning up an ants nest there, she conned it all over.

    Bluebell | Mrs. George Croft Huddleston
  • They informed me that a malevolent Genius had been enraged with them for more than a year and was decimating the population.

  • The procedure had dragged on for years, decimating the better class like a pestilence.

  • Did the germs of some epidemic invade the country, decimating the population by disease and poverty?

British Dictionary definitions for decimate


/ (ˈdɛsɪˌmeɪt) /

  1. to destroy or kill a large proportion of: a plague decimated the population

  2. (esp in the ancient Roman army) to kill every tenth man of (a mutinous section)

Origin of decimate

C17: from Latin decimāre, from decimus tenth, from decem ten

usage For decimate

One talks about the whole of something being decimated, not a part: disease decimated the population, not disease decimated most of the population

Derived forms of decimate

  • decimation, noun
  • decimator, noun

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