To degrade means to reduce the worth of something, as when smoke and pollution degrade the environment. The word can also mean to disrespect or insult: thoughtless comments can degrade a person.

If you whistle at a passing woman, you're being disrespectful — your behavior degrades women. Degrade is often used to mean to insult someone because of their gender or race. Degrade also means to break down. Old paper or photographs can degrade when left in the light — their material breaks down so that they crumble at a touch.

Definitions of degrade

v reduce in worth or character, usually verbally

demean, disgrace, put down, take down
lower in grade or rank or force somebody into an undignified situation
dehumanise, dehumanize
deprive of human qualities
Type of:
abase, chagrin, humble, humiliate, mortify
cause to feel shame; hurt the pride of

v lower the grade of something; reduce its worth

devaluate, devalue
remove the value from; deprive of its value
demonetise, demonetize
deprive of value for payment
Type of:
aggravate, exacerbate, exasperate, worsen
make worse

v reduce the level of land, as by erosion

build up to a level by depositing sediment

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.