The Meaning of Attrition: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the word attrition means? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word attrition, including its meaning, usage, synonyms, origin, and more!

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What does the word attrition mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary, and the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the word attrition is a noun that has a couple of different meanings. First, the word attrition is a process where someone steadily reduces the strength of an enemy by continually attacking them or via harassment, i.e. the phrase war of attrition. The attrition rate can also be used at a university or workplace to refer to the number of students or employees. This is caused by people leaving or quitting but then not being replaced. This reduction in the number of employees in the workforce can be voluntary attrition or caused by mass layoffs or firings. Employee turnover is not viewed as a good thing, especially when a company has a high rate of attrition. In the sciences, this is used to refer to a loss of participants during a study or experiment. In geology and geography, attrition means the grinding down of rock particles by friction during transportation by water, wind, or ice. In theology, attrition means imperfect contrition or remorse, meaning one feels sorrow for one’s sins that arises from a motive other than that of the love of God. In dentistry, the term is used to refer to the wearing of teeth, usually due to grinding. In linguistics, attrition means the loss of a language or a portion of a language. Attrition is three syllables – at-tri-tion, and the pronunciation of attrition is əˈtrɪʃən. 

Many different languages also contain words that mean attrition. You may notice that some of these words look and sound similar to each other. These are called cognates, which are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin like Latin or Greek. This list of translations of attrition is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Afrikaans: reduksie‎
  •  Telugu: తగ్గింపు‎ (taggimpu)
  •  Czech: snížení‎ (neut.), redukce‎ (fem.)
  •  Romanian: reducere‎ (fem.)
  •  German: Reduktion‎ (fem.), Reduzierung‎ (fem.)
  •  Italian: sgravio‎ (masc.), taglio‎ (masc.), riduzione‎ (fem.)
  •  French: réduction‎ (fem.)
  •  Portuguese: redução‎ (fem.), diminuição‎ (fem.)
  •  Bulgarian: изтъркване‎, изтриване‎
  •  Dutch: slijtage‎
  •  Hebrew: שחיקה‎ (shkhika)
  •  Hungarian: kopás‎, felőrlődés‎, felmorzsolódás‎
  •  Japanese: 磨耗‎ (mamō)
  •  Occitan: abrasion‎, atricion‎
  •  Swedish: nötning‎ (common), förslitning‎ (common)
  •  Arabic: نَقْص‎ (masc.)
  •  Greek: μείωση‎ (fem.), ελάττωση‎ (fem.)
  •  Spanish: reducción‎ (fem.)
  •  Finnish: vähentäminen‎
  •  Latvian: pamazinājums‎ (masc.)
  •  Russian: уменьше́ние‎ (neut.), (eg. prices) сниже́ние‎ (neut.), сведе́ние‎ (neut.)
  •  Egyptian Arabic: نقص‎

What are synonyms and antonyms of the word attrition?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word attrition. These words are called synonyms. Synonyms are words that mean the same thing as a given word or phrase, and that can be used interchangeably. One might choose to use a synonym to expand their own vocabulary, to avoid repeating themselves, or to choose a word that makes the most sense for the context. The below list of synonyms for the word attrition is provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  wearing away
  •  grinding down
  •  rubbing away
  •  corrasion
  •  penitence
  •  decrease
  •  grindings
  •  burning up
  •  desedimentation
  •  hard wear
  •  shrinkage
  •  attenuation
  •  rasping
  •  scratching
  •  friction
  •  wear and tear
  •  abatement
  •  depreciation
  •  scuff
  •  cut
  •  scratch
  •  debilitation
  •  trituration
  •  burnout
  •  copiosity
  •  resistance
  •  shredding
  •  wearing down
  •  remorsefulness
  •  lessening
  •  self-reproach
  •  contrition
  •  abrading
  •  grinding
  •  crushing
  •  atonement
  •  ablation
  •  corrosion
  •  shame
  •  fretting
  •  weathering
  •  grating
  •  extenuatory
  •  penitency
  •  damage
  •  dissolution
  •  sorrow
  •  ravages of time
  •  gradual reduction
  •  blunting
  •  dissipation
  •  grief
  •  reduction
  •  deterioration
  •  wasting
  •  exhaustion
  •  apology
  •  stroke
  •  depletion
  •  sorriness
  •  loss
  •  fatigue
  •  spending
  •  drain
  •  abrasion
  •  chafing
  •  atomization
  •  penalty
  •  enfeebling
  •  repentance
  •  wearing
  •  decrement
  •  massage
  •  buffing
  •  worn
  •  sapping
  •  abrasions
  •  rub
  •  scraping
  •  eating away
  •  natural wastage
  •  constant wearing
  •  erosion
  •  disintegration
  •  eroding
  •  detrition
  •  smoothing
  •  penance
  •  erode
  •  corroding
  •  chafe
  •  remorse
  •  guilt
  •  rubbing
  •  compunction
  •  rue
  •  macrology
  •  thinning
  •  contriteness
  •  emaciation
  •  weakening
  •  stroking
  •  wear

But what if someone wanted to use a word that meant the opposite of attrition? In this case, they would use an antonym, or opposite word. An antonym is a word or phrase that means the opposite of a given word or phrase. The below list of antonyms for attrition is also provided by Power Thesaurus

  •  stiffen
  •  earmark
  •  underpin
  •  magnify
  •  building
  •  rejoice
  •  intensify
  •  conserve
  •  entrancement
  •  increasing
  •  delight
  •  fat
  •  enjoyment
  •  amplify
  •  reinforcement
  •  gladness
  •  redouble
  •  recuperation
  •  intensifying
  •  aggrandize
  •  accumulation
  •  ecstasy
  •  verify
  •  buildup
  •  felicity
  •  enforce
  •  toughen
  •  uphold
  •  accretion
  •  enhancing
  •  alter
  •  contentment
  •  refresh
  •  deepening
  •  escalating
  •  reinforce
  •  develop
  •  accrual
  •  reenforce
  •  prove
  •  fortification
  •  admiration
  •  sustain
  •  merriment
  •  strengthening
  •  hardheartedness
  •  deluge
  •  revitalize
  •  harden
  •  strengthen

What is the origin of the word attrition?

According to Etymonline, the word attrition has been used since early c15 Middle English. This comes from the Latin attritionem, the nominative Late Latin attrītiō/Latin attritio, meaning an act of rubbing against. This comes from the past participle stem of the Latin atterere, from the Latin prefix ad in the assimilated form and the root terere meaning to rub.

How can the word attrition be used in a sentence?

The word attrition can be used in many different sentences in the English language. Below is an example of attrition.

The human resources department feared the number of people that were contributing to the employe attrition rate. This metric of involuntary attrition was caused by a natural reduction in employees who did not want to go back into the office. They feared that this lack of intangible resource would cause the number of customers they could take on to decrease, thus contributing to customer attrition rates.

Overall, the word attrition means a reduction or decrease. This word comes from the past participle of atterere, a Latin word meaning to wear or rub away.


  1. Attrition definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary 
  2. attrition: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  3. Attrition synonyms – 376 Words and Phrases for Attrition | Power Thesaurus 
  4. Attrition antonyms – 50 Opposites of Attrition | Power Thesaurus 
  5. attrition | Origin and meaning of attrition | Online Etymology Dictionary