degenerate

1 of 3

adjective

de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-rət How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
-ˈje-nə-,
dē-
1
a
: having declined or become less specialized (as in nature, character, structure, or function) from an ancestral or former state
the last degenerate member of a noble familyW. E. Swinton
b
: having sunk to a condition below that which is normal to a type
… fruit so degenerate that the insects weren't even interested …Tamar Perla
especially : having sunk to a lower and usually corrupt and vicious state
a degenerate schemer
a despairing and degenerate world had sunk into servitude beneath him W. L. Sullivan
c
: degraded sense 2
the functionally degenerate wings of the species
2
mathematics : being simpler (as by having a factor or constant equal to zero) than the typical case
a degenerate hyperbola
3
physics and astronomy : characterized by atoms stripped of their electrons and by very great density
degenerate matter
also : consisting of degenerate matter
a degenerate star
4
physics and chemistry : having two or more states or subdivisions especially of the same energy or frequency
degenerate energy level
degenerate oscillation
5
genetics : having more than one codon representing an amino acid
also : being such a codon
degenerately adverb
degenerateness noun

degenerate

2 of 3

verb

de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈje-nə-ˌrāt How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
dē-
degenerated; degenerating; degenerates

intransitive verb

1
: to pass from a higher to a lower type or condition : deteriorate
her fixed mysterious smile degenerated into a fatuous stareJ. C. Powys
2
: to sink into a low intellectual or moral state
The debate degenerated into a shouting match.
At the same time, discotheques degenerated into seedier venues … —shifty, often Mob-run last-martini stops for business commuters …Peter Braunstein
3
: to decline in quality
the poetry gradually degenerates into jingles
… the sitcom has degenerated into a sparring ring of personal insultJames Wolcott
4
biology : to decline from a condition or from the standards of a species, race, or breed
5
biology : to evolve or develop into a less autonomous (see autonomous sense 2a) or less functionally active form
degenerated into dependent parasites

transitive verb

: to cause to degenerate

degenerate

3 of 3

noun

de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-rət How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
-ˈje-nə-,
dē-
: one that is degenerate (see degenerate entry 1) : such as
a
: one degraded from the normal moral standard
social degenerates
b
: a sexual pervert
c
anthropology : one showing signs of reversion (see reversion sense 3a) to an earlier culture stage
Choose the Right Synonym for degenerate

vicious, villainous, iniquitous, nefarious, corrupt, degenerate mean highly reprehensible or offensive in character, nature, or conduct.

vicious may directly oppose virtuous in implying moral depravity, or may connote malignancy, cruelty, or destructive violence.

a vicious gangster

villainous applies to any evil, depraved, or vile conduct or characteristic.

a villainous assault

iniquitous implies absence of all signs of justice or fairness.

an iniquitous system of taxation

nefarious suggests flagrant breaching of time-honored laws and traditions of conduct.

the nefarious rackets of organized crime

corrupt stresses a loss of moral integrity or probity causing betrayal of principle or sworn obligations.

city hall was rife with corrupt politicians

degenerate suggests having sunk to an especially vicious or enervated condition.

a degenerate regime propped up by foreign powers

Examples of degenerate in a Sentence

Adjective He criticizes what he believes is a degenerate society. a degenerate society in which people had no sense of being citizens, only consumers Verb over the years the community-minded organization degenerated into a club for loafers Noun a couple of degenerates on a crime spree a degenerate who is uninterested in anything but his own gratification
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Full of legitimately funny, or maybe, just shocking moments when Drake calls Kendrick’s pro-Blackness a sham and Kendrick calls Drake a degenerate deadbeat. Alphonse Pierre, Pitchfork, 6 May 2024 Embodying nepotistic rot is Derek Danforth (played convincingly by Josh Hutcherson), the degenerate son of a prominent politician. Giancarlo Sopo, National Review, 13 Jan. 2024 But in a degenerate gas, the electrons do fill up all the energy levels, and this results in an outward-pressing force to halt the star's collapse. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 20 July 2023 Not surprisingly, director and co-writer Gene Stupnitsky wrote that Cameron Diaz movie, which gave us a similar gloriously degenerate heroine who eventually mellows out, matures, etc. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 23 June 2023 Approaching Oblivion In the ultimate far future of the universe, after all the stars have left the stage—along with their degenerate leftovers and black holes—nothing more than individual particles will dominate the universe. Popular Mechanics, 7 Mar. 2023 Both your characters are pretty degenerate gamblers. Marlow Stern, Rolling Stone, 16 June 2023 The small secondhand window air conditioner whose acquisition one of us finally permitted after years of insisting that air-conditioning was a degenerate indulgence. Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, Harper’s Magazine , 7 Dec. 2021 Phil was a degenerate gambler. Paul Daugherty, The Enquirer, 7 June 2022
Verb
The game degenerated early in the third period with the Kings, who have been eliminated by Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons, showing their frustration. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 27 Apr. 2024 If developing a bomb was so hard for their own scientists, the Nazis appear to have reasoned, how could the degenerate Allies ever do it? Claudia Roth Pierpont, The New Yorker, 19 Feb. 2024 The region’s vibrant, open trading networks would likely degenerate into more of a hub-and-spoke system, with China as the hub and subjugated countries at the end of the spokes. Andrew S. Erickson, Foreign Affairs, 16 Feb. 2024 Libya soon degenerated into a violent dystopia and sanctuary for international terrorists and human traffickers. Armstrong Williams, Baltimore Sun, 2 Feb. 2024 Why Daniel Sprong has been a 'remarkable fit' for Red Wings Penalties galore Lyon was strong early, before the first period degenerated into a parade to the penalty box. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press, 18 Jan. 2024 Sometimes, as many targets have experienced, the criticism degenerates into personal threats and physical confrontations. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feb. 2024 One night in 1986—before current members Tom Dumont, Tony Kanal, and Adrian Young were in the band—No Doubt had finished playing a backyard gig to punks, mods, skinheads, and other degenerates in their hometown of Anaheim, Ca. Stephanie Mendez, SPIN, 2 Feb. 2024 Lifting also helps with cognitive function, reduces anxiety, and prevents the brain from degenerating. Jordan Castro, Harper's Magazine, 9 Jan. 2024
Noun
When valuable treasure is discovered off the coast of Korea, the country’s biggest degenerates come crawling out of the woodwork in the hope of striking it big. Patrick Frater, Variety, 15 Apr. 2024 When every game gets presented as a point spread, and when every shot becomes merely an input in a degenerate’s parlay math, the game feels cheapened. Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker, 29 Mar. 2024 Mom's dead, dad's not in the picture; her last boyfriend (Ethan Jones Ramirez) was a violent degenerate. Kristen Baldwin, EW.com, 21 July 2023 Naked Hunter Biden is a joke, a degenerate, a walking embodiment of squick. Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 21 July 2023 Taken to its illogical extreme, Russia is liberating Ukrainians from the degenerate Westerners tricking them into turning against their Russian brothers. Michael S. Neiberg, Washington Post, 12 June 2023 But also, there’s this: Several years into this storyline, and all the slick men in suits who tried to buy Stormy’s silence or swindle her book advance or paint her as a degenerate — all of them have fallen. Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 22 Mar. 2023 The protagonist is Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a divorced father who's a bit of a degenerate and a gambler. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, 1 Oct. 2021 Thus was born the degenerate, slouching image of Neanderthals. Jonathon Keats, Discover Magazine, 4 Sep. 2015

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

Word History

Etymology

Adjective, Verb, and Noun

Middle English degenerat, from Latin degeneratus, past participle of degenerare to degenerate, from de- + gener-, genus race, kind — more at kin

First Known Use

Adjective

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

Verb

1545, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

Noun

1555, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of degenerate was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near degenerate

Cite this Entry

“Degenerate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/degenerate. Accessed 21 May. 2024.

Kids Definition

degenerate

1 of 3 adjective
de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-(ə-)rət How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
: having degenerated : debased, degraded
degenerately adverb

degenerate

2 of 3 verb
de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-ə-ˌrāt How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
1
: to pass from a higher to a lower type or condition : deteriorate
the meeting degenerated into noisy chatter
2
: to undergo evolution toward an earlier or less highly organized biological form

degenerate

3 of 3 noun
de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-(ə-)rət How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
: a degenerate person

Medical Definition

degenerate

1 of 3 adjective
de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-(ə-)rət How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
1
a
: having declined (as in nature, character, structure, or function) from an ancestral or former state
especially : having deteriorated progressively (as in the process of evolution) especially through loss of structure and function
b
: having sunk to a lower and usually corrupt and vicious state
2
: having more than one codon representing an amino acid
also : being such a codon

degenerate

2 of 3 intransitive verb
de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-ə-ˌrāt How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
degenerated; degenerating
1
: to sink into a low intellectual or moral state
2
: to pass from a higher to a lower type or condition: as
a
: to gradually deteriorate so that normal function or structure is impaired or lost
the retina degenerated
b
: to decline from the standards of a species, race, or breed
3
: to evolve or develop into a less autonomous or less functionally active form
degenerated into dependent parasites

degenerate

3 of 3 noun
de·​gen·​er·​ate di-ˈjen-(ə-)rət How to pronounce degenerate (audio)
: one that is degenerate: as
a
: one degraded from the normal moral standard
b
: a sexual pervert

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