You've probably heard that organisms evolve over time. Well, life is complicated, and sometimes things devolve instead — to devolve is to get worse instead of better.

The de- in devolve is a clue to its meaning. When things devolve, they deteriorate, degenerate, fall apart, go to the dogs, and generally end up worse. When a classroom gets loud and rowdy, a teacher might say the class has devolved. There is another, less negative, meaning of devolve. You can devolve responsibilities: for example, the U.S. government could devolve a certain responsibility to the states. The non-negative meaning of devolve is kind of like passing things on in a will. If I devolve something to you, you inherit it.

Definitions of devolve

v pass on or delegate to another

“The representative devolved his duties to his aides while he was in the hospital”
Type of:
assign, delegate, depute, designate
give an assignment to (a person) to a post, or assign a task to (a person)

v be inherited by

“The estate devolved to an heir that everybody had assumed to be dead”
fall, pass, return
accrue, fall
come into the possession of
fall, light
fall to somebody by assignment or lot
Type of:
change hands, change owners
be transferred to another owner

v grow worse

“The discussion devolved into a shouting match”
degenerate, deteriorate, drop
convalesce, recover, recuperate
get over an illness or shock
restore to good health or strength
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fatigue, jade, pall, tire, weary
lose interest or become bored with something or somebody
fade, languish
become feeble
rot, waste
become physically weaker
gangrene, mortify, necrose, sphacelate
undergo necrosis
conk out, peter out, poop out, run down, run out
use up all one's strength and energy and stop working
retire, withdraw
lose interest
Type of:
decline, worsen
grow worse

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