Definition of attrition in US English:



  • 1The action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.

    ‘the council is trying to wear down the opposition by attrition’
    ‘the squadron suffered severe attrition of its bombers’
    • ‘No other army in the world would choose to sustain such an attrition rate.’
    • ‘Research on graduate attrition shows that only 50 percent of Ph.D. students complete their degree.’
    • ‘The major difference in the nation's new military doctrine is that it is based on speed, rather than attrition.’
    • ‘Their game is a form of physical attrition of the opposition.’
    • ‘They have greatly increased the fear that we are only at the beginning of an open-ended struggle of attrition with homegrown suicide bombers.’
    • ‘He counted on air supremacy to allow his forces to reduce the communists by attrition, and he seemed to believe that UN ground forces could handle the survivors.’
    • ‘As long as the war was kept in that context, they could sustain the years of attrition.’
    • ‘He notes that ‘They fight long attrition wars poorly, and short preemptive wars well.’’
    • ‘Gallipoli was a brutal campaign of attrition, a bloody example of a war which was fought to the last man standing.’
    • ‘Otherwise, I think the United States is going to continue to suffer this attrition in its moral authority and I think the price will be very high.’
    • ‘Given the early attrition of this particular sample of program participants, the current study was not able to capture the experiences of youth who remained in the program for longer periods of time.’
    • ‘Other studies find that some aspects of part-time instruction could be the causes of student attrition, which in turn affects the eventual transition into the workplace.’
    • ‘That conflict had been dominated by slow-moving forces employing heavy firepower and waging a war of gradual attrition.’
    • ‘Guerrillas can lose battle after battle and yet still win the war, because guerrilla warfare is a form of attrition.’
    • ‘One hopes that the war will be quick, bloodless and easy and that we will not have to fight a long- drawn-out battle of attrition.’
    • ‘Despite the continuous debilitating attrition in the value and effectiveness of the UN, we hope that there may be at least one hope.’
    • ‘The size of the study population decreased with increasing age, due, primarily, to attrition through mortality.’
    • ‘You may build only within this zone, and enemies will suffer attrition damage inside it.’
    • ‘His rank and age reflected the high pilot attrition rate we suffered early on in the battle.’
    • ‘Working in a law firm, your social life dies by attrition.’
    wearing down, wearing away, weakening, debilitation, enfeebling, sapping, attenuation
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    1. 1.1North American, NZ, Australian The gradual reduction of a workforce by employees' leaving and not being replaced rather than by their being laid off.
      ‘with so few retirements since March, the year's attrition was insignificant’
      • ‘He said they are committed to ensure that any reduction of staff will be achieved through a process of ‘natural attrition.’’
      • ‘The firm's staff numbers have been reduced through attrition - some departing employees have not been replaced and others have taken on new responsibilities.’
      • ‘Steps like these have helped it shrink its workforce through attrition, from a peak of 804,000 in 1999 to 701,000 today.’
      • ‘This, combined with early retirement and natural attrition, could see relatively few staff being forced to exit compulsorily.’
      • ‘Changes of this magnitude are more likely to occur through concentrated efforts to reduce the workforce than through attrition.’
      • ‘Studies on the retention of laboratory personnel have focused on the causes of employee attrition and strategies to promote retention.’
      • ‘While he says there have been few layoffs at his firm, he's reducing head count through attrition.’
      • ‘Under the agreement Eurotunnel is to shed 750 jobs from its 3,200-strong workforce through attrition and voluntary departures.’
      • ‘In addition, the carmakers will now be able to use attrition to scale back the workforce.’
      • ‘For example, it's very common for unions to resist plans to reduce the workforce through attrition.’
      • ‘Staff shortages have dramatically increased workloads and according to a union spokesman, the overall numbers of postmen have been reduced every year since 1999 through a process of attrition.’
      • ‘Retirement was listed as the reason for 9.2% of the employee attrition.’
      • ‘Some of those job losses will come through natural attrition.’
      • ‘Matthews also let attrition reduce his commission-based staff.’
      • ‘Studies of employee attrition across multiple disciplines would also be helpful in identifying common problems and shared solutions.’
      • ‘To that end, given the demographics of our workforce, we plan to achieve much of this reduction via attrition and early-retirement programs.’
      • ‘Teachers are leaving on a daily basis through natural attrition.’
      • ‘After these meetings, our employee attrition rate dropped from 13 percent to 11 percent.’
      • ‘The three largest causes of attrition were contract termination, resignation and mortality.’
    2. 1.2 Wearing away by friction; abrasion.
      ‘the skull shows attrition of the edges of the teeth’
      • ‘The advantage of this system is that if the external render is damaged - by the elements or enemy attack - attrition is restricted to specific layers and does not spread to the layers above or below.’
      • ‘In this hypothesis, the silts form by aeolian abrasion and attrition of sand grains and by rock-weathering processes.’
      • ‘Mechanical attrition processes often involve ball milling in various machines and environments.’
      • ‘Ice sheet attrition appears to have accelerated recently, making its contribution more significant in the 1990s.’
      • ‘Teeth may be damaged by dental caries, trauma, erosion, attrition, and abrasion or lost through periodontal disease.’
      • ‘Needless to say, there is nothing pleasurable about the ailments caused by muscle attrition or a lack of bone density.’
      • ‘Further, X-rays showed there was no deposit of secondary dentine as would have been expected if the abrasion had been due to natural attrition before death.’
      • ‘There is no gold found more perfect than this, as the current polishes it thoroughly by attrition.’
      abrasion, friction, rubbing, chafing, corroding, corrosion, erosion, eating away, grinding, scraping, wearing away, wearing, excoriation, deterioration, damaging
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  • 2(in scholastic theology) sorrow, but not contrition, for sin.

    • ‘I should mention before I go through with this final act of attrition that if I misbehaved so egregiously over the past year, it must certainly reflect negatively on you both as parents.’


Late Middle English (in attrition (sense 2)): from late Latin attritio(n-), from atterere ‘to rub’.