Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Medical
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun de·scent \di-ˈsent\

Definition of descent

  1. 1 a :  derivation from an ancestor :  birth, lineage <of French descent> b :  transmission or devolution of an estate by inheritance usually in the descending line c :  the fact or process of originating from an ancestral stock d :  the shaping or development in nature and character by transmission from a source :  derivation

  2. 2 :  the act or process of descending

  3. 3 :  a step downward in a scale of gradation; specifically :  one generation in an ancestral line or genealogical scale

  4. 4 a :  an inclination downward :  slope b :  a descending way (as a downgrade or stairway) c obsolete :  the lowest part

  5. 5 a :  attack, invasion b :  a sudden disconcerting appearance (as for a visit)

  6. 6 :  a downward step (as in station or value) :  decline <descent of the family to actual poverty>

Examples of descent

  1. The book describes his descent into a deep depression after the death of his wife.

  2. her slow descent to a life of addiction

  3. The only path that goes down to the river is a rather steep descent, so be careful.

Origin of descent

Middle English, from Anglo-French descente, from Anglo-French descendre

First Known Use: 14th century

DESCENT Defined for Kids


noun de·scent \di-ˈsent\

Definition of descent

  1. 1 :  an act of coming or going down in location or condition <The plane began its descent.>

  2. 2 :  a downward slope <a steep descent>

  3. 3 :  a person's ancestors <She is of Korean descent.>

Medical Dictionary


noun de·scent \di-ˈsent\

Medical Definition of descent

  1. 1:  the act or process of descending from a higher to a lower location <descent of the testes into the scrotum>

  2. 2a:  derivation from an ancestorb:  the fact or process of originating by generation from an ancestral stock (as a species or genus)

  3. 3:  a former method of distillation in which the material was heated in a vessel having its outlet underneath so that the vapors produced were forced to descend

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up descent? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


February 13, 2016

a trying or distressing experience

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


How much does a batman (the Turkish unit of measurement) weigh?

100 pounds 2.2 pounds 196.5 pounds 16.96 pounds
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.