con·​de·​scend ˌkän-di-ˈsend How to pronounce condescend (audio)
condescended; condescending; condescends

intransitive verb

: to assume an air of superiority
The writer treats her readers as equals and never condescends to them.
: to descend to a less formal or dignified level : unbend
would not condescend to respond to such a crass remark
: to waive the privileges of rank

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What is the difference between condescending and patronizing?

Very few words in English have exactly the same meaning; even words which appear to be entirely synonymous often will be found to have small differences in certain contexts. The words condescending and patronizing present a fine example of this. At first glance these words appear to be defined somewhat circularly: condescending often has the word "patronizing" in its definition, and patronize is defined, in part, as “to adopt an air of condescension toward.”

But both of these words have specialized senses that lend a shade of meaning to their synonymous senses. Patronizing can mean "giving support to" or "being a customer of," suggesting that the "condescending" sense implies superiority gained through a donor-dependent relationship.

The verb condescend used to be free of any hint of the offensive superiority it usually suggests today. It could mean literally "to go or come down" or, figuratively, "to willingly lower oneself to another’s level," senses that are still occasionally encountered in writings on the Bible. The idea of self-consciously lowering oneself is implied in the "patronizing" sense of condescending.

Examples of condescend in a Sentence

I will not condescend to answer the sore loser's charge that I cheated in order to win the race. wealthy people who tend to be condescending toward their poor relations
Recent Examples on the Web Greta Lee’s Stella is tired of being condescended to by Cory. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Sep. 2023 But the fact that that attention and respect have to come in the form of a gift from men to women is, in itself, patronizing and condescending. Gordon Monson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 8 Aug. 2023 After greatest Women’s World Cup, will FIFA boss stop spouting condescending messages? Aug. 22, 2023 The long pause between games for most of the Galaxy was even longer for Yoshida, who last played for Schalke of the German Bundesliga in May. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 27 Aug. 2023 The handsome, amiable, silver-haired host was never obsequious or condescending to his contestants, always enthusiastic and warm. Carmel Dagan, Variety, 26 Aug. 2023 In this country, at this most critical moment since our own Civil War, the question is not whether élites are condescending to the people, or whether those people and their country are somehow irrevocably or structurally racist. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 16 Aug. 2023 One senses Cole would have condescended to this work. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 24 July 2023 Bobby Valentine was erudite, if a bit condescending. Kevin Sherrington, Dallas News, 17 July 2023 On the whole: respectful, without being condescending. Aruna D’souza, New York Times, 19 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'condescend.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French condescendre, from Late Latin condescendere, from Latin com- + descendere to descend

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of condescend was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near condescend

Cite this Entry

“Condescend.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


con·​de·​scend ˌkän-di-ˈsend How to pronounce condescend (audio)
: to lower oneself to a level considered less dignified or humbler than one's own
: to act in a way that suggests that one considers oneself better than other people

More from Merriam-Webster on condescend

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