9 Grammatical Pitfalls


[des-uh-meyt] /ˈdɛs əˌmeɪt/
verb (used with object), decimated, decimating.
to destroy a great number or proportion of:
The population was decimated by a plague.
to select by lot and kill every tenth person of.
Obsolete. to take a tenth of or from.
Origin of decimate
1590-1600; < Latin decimātus, past participle of decimāre to punish every tenth man chosen by lot, verbal derivative of decimus tenth, derivative of decem ten; see -ate1
Related forms
decimation, noun
decimator, noun
Can be confused
decimal, decimate, destroy (see usage note at the current entry; see synonym study at destroy)
Usage note
The earliest English sense of decimate is “to select by lot and execute every tenth soldier of (a unit).” The extended sense “destroy a great number or proportion of” developed in the 19th century: 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. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for decimation
  • decimation of these bats could have a devastating effect on tropical ecosystems on three continents.
  • Hunting of the species and decimation of its prey and habitat have been the cause of its demise.
  • Trauma and personal loss obviously play a role in this, but the decimation of the city's physical environment surely does as well.
  • Of course, there is also now an increasing risk of high volume population decimation by pathogens or other effects.
  • It is criminal to permit the sufferings and decimation of species local and imported.
  • The loss of entire ecosystems due to the decimation of habitat.
  • It comes with access software and routines to facilitate decimation based on a standard line-reduction algorithm.
  • The resulting unsustainable collection of plants for commercial markets led to rapid decimation of wild populations.
  • The decimation of sharks in an estuarine ecosystem caused an outbreak of cow-nosed rays and the collapse of shellfish populations.
  • The long-term effect of uncontrolled violations is a denigration of fisheries, sometimes to the point of decimation.
British Dictionary definitions for decimation


verb (transitive)
to destroy or kill a large proportion of: a plague decimated the population
(esp in the ancient Roman army) to kill every tenth man of (a mutinous section)
Derived Forms
decimation, noun
decimator, noun
Usage note
One talks about the whole of something being decimated, not a part: disease decimated the population, not disease decimated most of the population
Word Origin
C17: from Latin decimāre, from decimus tenth, from decem ten
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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Word Origin and History for decimation

mid-15c., from Late Latin decimationem (nominative decimatio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin decimare "the removal or destruction of one-tenth," from decem "ten" (see ten). Earliest sense in English was of a tithe; punishment sense is from 1580s; transferred sense of "much destruction, severe loss" recorded from 1680s.



c.1600, in reference to the practice of punishing mutinous military units by capital execution of one in every 10, by lot; from Latin decimatus, past participle of decimare (see decimation). Killing one in ten, chosen by lots, from a rebellious city or a mutinous army was a common punishment in classical times. The word has been used (incorrectly, to the irritation of pedants) since 1660s for "destroy a large portion of." Related: Decimated; decimating.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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