Definition of decimate in English:



[with object]
  • 1Kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of.

    ‘the inhabitants of the country had been decimated’
    • ‘Thousands of bee swarms in the central Eastern Cape have been decimated by a deadly blood-sucking Asian mite which destroys the male drone bees and damages female worker bees.’
    • ‘Extensive wetlands in Sonora have been decimated by irrigated agriculture and urbanization.’
    • ‘Scotland's fishing fleet has been decimated and the rest of us were as powerless as the Scottish Minister for Fishing.’
    • ‘Yet both dam projects would decimate the very scrubland the lynx depends on.’
    • ‘Native clam populations in the Great Lakes have been decimated, and other species that compete for food with the mussels are in sharp decline.’
    • ‘At the same time some of the native species that were decimated by the Nile Perch, or were even thought extinct, were coming back.’
    • ‘The big fleet in Thailand was decimated in a fire at the Royal Varuna Club several years ago, though there are still a few ‘vintage’ boats at Varuna.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Encroachment by farmers and livestock was already decimating the park's wildlife.’
    • ‘Of course, if a walker happened to stumble on the nest of one of the few remaining pairs of a species which has been decimated by farming practices, damage could result.’
    • ‘The fishing fleet may have been decimated, and the pits and shipyards may have been replaced by air-conditioned call centres, but Britain's industrial heritage lives on in song.’
    • ‘A lot of the bird species here, particularly the migratory waders, have been decimated.’
    • ‘Populations of these invertebrates have been decimated or even eradicated in areas where wasps are common.’
    • ‘Trees are hard to kill, but their populations can be decimated by the same types of parasitic or bacterial plagues that can destroy human populations.’
    • ‘A University of Sydney researcher is claiming up to a third of our snake species could be decimated.’
    • ‘A huge Scots army was decimated, thousands killed, enslaved, or exiled.’
    • ‘Fields are still small, there are no huge modern sheds and the pastures are rich in species that would otherwise have been decimated by modern farming methods.’
    • ‘Those groups are the remnants of populations that were decimated by whalers and other seafarers who killed the creatures for food.’
    • ‘The plague decimated the working population of Europe, and this left large tracts of land vacant.’
    get rid of, eliminate, do away with, remove, suppress
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something)
      ‘public transport has been decimated’
      • ‘Both agriculture and the province's small manufacturing industries were decimated during the civil war.’
      • ‘Donegal's once vibrant textile industry has been decimated in the past decade with the closure of companies like Jockey, Donegal Shirts and Fingal Manufacturing.’
      • ‘Only last month the government announced the biggest spending cuts in more than a decade that will decimate the public services on which thousands rely.’
      • ‘I didn't see these self same people out on the pickets when the mining industry was decimated, neither were they there when the steel industry collapsed.’
      • ‘At the very least it could allow all 12 voluntary projects that have been decimated by these cuts more time to try and find alternative sources of funding or make appropriate plans.’
      • ‘How can any honest American still follow this clown, he has decimated the economy and strength of our country, every American should be outraged’
      • ‘Traders claiming their businesses have been decimated by a controversial bus lane were due to hold an emergency public meeting with Transport for London last night.’
      • ‘In the early 1890s, a series of brutal winters decimated the cattle industry.’
      • ‘Supermarkets all over the country have been lowering wages and decimating workers' health plans.’
      • ‘Film producers have warned that the Government risks decimating the home-grown industry if it scraps tax breaks for movie-makers.’
      • ‘The fear of the virus has decimated the tourist trade to South East Asia, with Singapore bearing the brunt of the cancellations.’
      • ‘Furthermore, anyone leaving the society would also get back only the minimum they were due, which means they would lose discretionary final bonuses, decimating the value of many investors' pension pots.’
      • ‘Fiscal infrastructure decimated by the effects of war.’
      • ‘In reality, the effects of privatisation and subcontracting in community care has decimated the true potential of people that need support in the community.’
  • 2historical 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’
    • ‘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).