decay

verb
de·​cay | \ di-ˈkā \
decayed; decaying; decays

Definition of decay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to decline from a sound or prosperous condition a decaying empire
2 : to decrease usually gradually in size, quantity, activity, or force The three voices … decayed and died out upon her ear.— Thomas Hardy
3 : to fall into ruin the city's decaying neighborhoods
4 : to decline in health, strength, or vigor Her mind is beginning to decay with age. believes that the moral fiber of our society is decaying
5 : to undergo decomposition decaying fruit Her teeth were decaying. … most isotopes of copper decay quickly, but two are stable: Cu-63 and Cu-65.— David E. Thomas

transitive verb

1 obsolete : to cause to decay : impair infirmity that decays the wise— William Shakespeare
2 : to destroy by decomposition wood decayed by bacteria

decay

noun

Definition of decay (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : gradual decline in strength, soundness, or prosperity or in degree of excellence or perfection the decay of the public school system
2 : a wasting or wearing away : ruin a neighborhood that had fallen into decay
3 obsolete : destruction, death … sullen presage of your own decay.— Shakespeare
4a : rot The material is … resistant to fire, decay and termites …— Jack McClintock specifically : aerobic decomposition of proteins chiefly by bacteria
b : the product of decay tooth decay
5 : a decline in health or vigor mental decay
6 : decrease in quantity, activity, or force: such as
a chemistry : spontaneous decrease in the number of radioactive atoms in radioactive material
b physics : spontaneous disintegration (as of an atom or a particle)

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Other Words from decay

Verb

decayer noun

Choose the Right Synonym for decay

Verb

decay, decompose, rot, putrefy, spoil mean to undergo destructive dissolution. decay implies a slow change from a state of soundness or perfection. a decaying mansion decompose stresses a breaking down by chemical change and when applied to organic matter a corruption. the strong odor of decomposing vegetation rot is a close synonym of decompose and often connotes foulness. fruit was left to rot in warehouses putrefy implies the rotting of animal matter and offensiveness to sight and smell. corpses putrefying on the battlefield spoil applies chiefly to the decomposition of foods. keep the ham from spoiling

Examples of decay in a Sentence

Verb

the smell of decaying rubbish dead plants and leaves decayed by bacteria She believes that the moral fiber of our society is decaying. our decaying public school system The city's neighborhoods are decaying.

Noun

the decay of dead plants and leaves She writes about the moral decay of our society. the patient's physical and mental decay The city's neighborhoods are in slow decay.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The strong magnetic field allows the axion to decay into a photon. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Pulsars could convert dark matter into something we could see," 20 Dec. 2018 And employment growth doesn’t necessarily vary among firms based on how many workers are in unions, so there’s no reason for union membership to decay as firms with more union members do worse. Dylan Matthews, Vox, "The emerging plan to save the American labor movement," 9 Apr. 2018 The Polish immigrants who financed the church were not wealthy, and their architect, Edwin Forrest Durang, built the structure in inexpensive brownstone, a soft material that decays easily. Inga Saffron, Philly.com, "The latest threat to Fishtown's historic St. Laurentius church? A nuisance lawsuit," 22 Mar. 2018 But what happens when society seems to be decaying, regardless of individual efforts towards personal improvement? Danny Heitman, WSJ, "‘Clean Curtains’ and New Year’s Resolutions," 30 Dec. 2018 In fact, axions can decay in a way that produces photons. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Pulsars could convert dark matter into something we could see," 20 Dec. 2018 After landfall, Alberto’s winds will decay, but the moisture envelop and rainfall will continue northward through Alabama and eventually Indiana by Wednesday. Brian Mcnoldy, Washington Post, "Subtropical Storm Alberto to make landfall on Florida Panhandle within hours," 28 May 2018 Without adjustment, the quantum information stored in the beryllium ions quickly decays away. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "An intermediary between qubits provides basis for control and scaling," 25 Nov. 2018 The neurological pathways that connected his brain to his muscle memory had been dormant and disconnected so long that the wiring had decayed, leaving him as helpless as a toddler. Lindsey Vehlewald, SELF, "We Never Got Flu Shots. Then the Flu Almost Killed My Husband," 9 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Here’s how The subject of this description is radiometric dating, which uses radioactive decay of some elements to figure out how old things are. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Video: How do we figure out that rocks are billions of years old?," 30 Oct. 2018 The Teresa Carreño, now a theater in decay, is used for Socialist Party rallies. Ryan Dube, WSJ, "The Lights Have Gone Out in Caracas," 13 May 2018 Now, as the technology for measuring radioactive decay has advanced, only a tiny amount of material is necessary. Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian, "Were Neanderthals the Earliest Cave Artists? New Research in Spain Points to the Possibility," 22 Feb. 2018 How much heat is flowing up from the decay of radioactive elements at the planet’s core? Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times, "Mars landing is a nail-biter for Redmond rocket engineers," 26 Nov. 2018 The two are powered by the decay of a radioactive element and so see their power budget drop by four watts a year. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "The Sun in its rearview mirror, Voyager 2 is in interstellar space," 11 Dec. 2018 In cities with less money, in the tradition of Potemkin villages, the roads to World Cup stadiums have been repaved and the buildings repainted, while those a block away remain in various states of decay. New York Times, "A Chance for Putin to Woo the World, Thanks to Soccer and Trump," 13 June 2018 In recent decades the neighborhood, like much of the Egyptian capital, has fallen into decay. Samy Magdy, Fox News, "Egypt razes historical Cairo district, angering residents," 15 Aug. 2018 The images are both benign and destructive, featuring the natural world, but also aspects of urban decay. Carolina A. Miranda, latimes.com, "Datebook: A closeup of dust, artistry of the Black Panther Party and celebrating the male physique," 5 July 2018

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

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First Known Use of decay

Verb

15th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for decay

Verb and Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French decaïr, from Late Latin decadere to fall, sink, from Latin de- + cadere to fall — more at chance

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Statistics for decay

Last Updated

22 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for decay

The first known use of decay was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for decay

decay

verb

English Language Learners Definition of decay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to be slowly destroyed by natural processes : to be slowly broken down by the natural processes that destroy a dead plant or body
: to slowly lose strength, health, etc.
of a building, area, etc. : to go slowly from a bad condition to a worse condition : to slowly enter a state of ruin

decay

noun

English Language Learners Definition of decay (Entry 2 of 2)

: the process or result of being slowly destroyed by natural processes
: the slow loss of strength, health, etc.
of a building, area, etc. : the process or result of going slowly from a bad condition to a worse condition

decay

verb
de·​cay | \ di-ˈkā \
decayed; decaying

Kids Definition of decay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to break down or cause to break down slowly by natural processes Fruit decayed on the ground. Sugar decays teeth.
2 : to slowly worsen in condition The old theater decayed.

decay

noun

Kids Definition of decay (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the process or result of slowly breaking down by natural processes The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay— Washington Irving, “Sleepy Hollow”
2 : a gradual worsening in condition a decay in manners
3 : a natural change of a radioactive element into another form of the same element or into a different element
de·​cay | \ di-ˈkā \

Medical Definition of decay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to undergo decomposition

transitive verb

: to destroy by decomposition

decay

noun

Medical Definition of decay (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : rot sense 1 specifically : aerobic decomposition of proteins chiefly by bacteria
b : the product of decay
2a : spontaneous decrease in the number of radioactive atoms in radioactive material
b : spontaneous disintegration (as of an atom or a nuclear particle)

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More from Merriam-Webster on decay

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with decay

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for decay

Spanish Central: Translation of decay

Nglish: Translation of decay for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of decay for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about decay

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