tending or threatening to devastate: a devastating fire.
satirical, ironic, or caustic in an effective way: a devastating portrayal of society.

Origin of devastating

First recorded in 1625–35; devastate + -ing2
Related formsdev·as·tat·ing·ly, adverbun·dev·as·tat·ing, adjectiveun·dev·as·tat·ing·ly, adverb



verb (used with object), dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing.

to lay waste; render desolate: The invaders devastated the city.
to overwhelm.

Origin of devastate

1625–35; < Latin dēvastātus laid waste (past participle of dēvastāre), equivalent to dē- de- + vast(āre) to lay waste (akin to vastus empty) + -ātus -ate1
Related formsdev·as·ta·tive, adjectivedev·as·ta·tor, nounun·dev·as·tat·ed, adjective

Synonym study

1. See ravage. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for devastating

Contemporary Examples of devastating

Historical Examples of devastating

  • If people seldom cry it has a devastating effect on their appearance when they do.

    Jan and Her Job

    L. Allen Harker

  • Israel was the evil one for whose sin they suffered this devastating plague.

    The Scapegoat

    Hall Caine

  • Remote as many of these jungles are, the plumage hunter is devastating them already.

    Conservation Reader

    Harold W. Fairbanks

  • Sometimes it was intermittent, and came down in devastating floods.

    Freaks on the Fells

    R.M. Ballantyne

  • The plague was not in Bombay then, but it is devastating the city now.

    Following the Equator, Complete

    Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

British Dictionary definitions for devastating



extremely effective in a destructive waya devastating war; a devastating report on urban deprivation
Derived Formsdevastatingly, adverb


verb (tr)

to lay waste or make desolate; ravage; destroy
to confound or overwhelm, as with grief or shock
Derived Formsdevastation, noundevastative, adjectivedevastator, noun

Word Origin for devastate

C17: from Latin dēvastāre, from de- + vastāre to ravage; related to vastus waste, empty
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

Word Origin and History for devastating

1630s, present participle adjective from devastate. Trivial use by 1889.



1630s, perhaps a back-formation from devastation. Apparently not common until 19c.; earlier verb form devast is attested from 1530s, from Middle French devaster. Related: devastated; devastating.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper