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
  1. verb
    pass on or delegate to another
    “The representative devolved his duties to his aides while he was in the hospital”
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    type of:
    assign, delegate, depute, designate
    give an assignment to (a person) to a post, or assign a task to (a person)
  2. verb
    be inherited by
    “The estate devolved to an heir that everybody had assumed to be dead”
    synonyms: fall, pass, return
    accrue, fall
    come into the possession of
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    fall, light
    fall to somebody by assignment or lot
    type of:
    change hands, change owners
    be transferred to another owner
  3. verb
    grow worse
    “The discussion devolved into a shouting match”
    synonyms: degenerate, deteriorate, drop
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    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
Word Family

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