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.

Example Sentences

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 Broekhuizen’s astute camerawork, which regards every central character with exquisite but never ostentatious care, doesn’t condescend to Ritsema and van Zoggel. Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Oct. 2022 The monsters, wildly imaginative, don’t condescend to a 10-year-old’s sensibilities — or a 24-year-old’s. New York Times, 26 Oct. 2021 As on MasterChef Junior, none of the judges, even in their critiques, condescend to their participants. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, 21 June 2019 Little Sheldon is an easily anxious fellow who tattles and condescends. Hal Boedeker,, 22 Sep. 2017 There’s a sharpness to her writing, an edge that comes from her understanding of human nature and her absolute refusal to pander or condescend to her young readers. Seattle Times Staff, The Seattle Times, 21 Sep. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'condescend.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 5 Dec. 2022.

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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