v. de·stroyed, de·stroy·ing, de·stroys
1. To break apart the structure of, render physically unusable, or cause to cease to exist as a distinguishable physical entity: The fire destroyed the library. The tumor was destroyed with a laser.
2. To put an end to; eliminate: “In crowded populations, poverty destroys the possibility of cleanliness” (George Bernard Shaw).
3. To render useless or ruin: felt that an overemphasis on theory had destroyed the study of literature.
4. To put to death; kill: destroy a rabid dog.
5. To subdue or defeat completely; crush: The rebel forces were destroyed in battle.
6. To cause emotional trauma to; devastate: The divorce destroyed him.
To be destructive; cause destruction: “Too much money destroys as surely as too little” (John Simon).
[Middle English destroien, from Old French destruire, from Vulgar Latin *dēstrūgere, back-formation from Latin dēstrūctus, past participle of dēstruere, to destroy : dē-, de- + struere, to pile up; see ster-2 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: destroy, raze, demolish, ruin, wreck
These verbs mean to cause the complete ruin or wreckage of something or someone. Destroy, raze, and demolish can all imply reduction to ruins or even complete obliteration: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” (Allen Ginsberg). “raze what was left of the city from the surface of the earth” (John Lothrop Motley).
The prosecutor demolished the opposition's argument. Ruin usually implies irretrievable harm but not necessarily total destruction: “You will ruin no more lives as you ruined mine” (Arthur Conan Doyle).
To wreck is to ruin in or as if in a violent collision: “The Boers had just wrecked a British military train” (Arnold Bennett).
When wreck is used in referring to the ruination of a person or of that person's hopes or reputation, it implies irreparable shattering: “Coleridge, poet and philosopher wrecked in a mist of opium” (Matthew Arnold).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.