de·​gen·​er·​a·​tion di-ˌje-nə-ˈrā-shən How to pronounce degeneration (audio)
: degenerate (see degenerate entry 1) condition
: a lowering of effective power, vitality, or essential quality to an enfeebled and worsened kind or state
the country's degeneration into chaos
… enacts the degeneration of politics into televisual entertainment …Linda Holt
: intellectual, moral, or artistic decline
Many of her stories show the degeneration of a principled person into a lethal one …Susannah Clapp
… argue that the tradition has radically devolved, and that books like "The Kiss," by Kathryn Harrison, represent the degeneration of a once ennobled form.Deborah E. McDowell
: progressive deterioration of physical characters from a level representing the norm of earlier generations or forms
: deterioration of a tissue or an organ in which its function is diminished or its structure is impaired
a degeneration of cartilage
Choose the Right Synonym for degeneration

deterioration, degeneration, decadence, decline mean the falling from a higher to a lower level in quality, character, or vitality.

deterioration implies generally the impairment of value or usefulness.

the deterioration of the house through neglect

degeneration stresses physical, intellectual, or especially moral retrogression.

the degeneration of their youthful idealism into cynicism

decadence presupposes a reaching and passing the peak of development and implies a turn downward with a consequent loss in vitality or energy.

cited love of luxury as a sign of cultural decadence

decline differs from decadence in suggesting a more markedly downward direction and greater momentum as well as more obvious evidence of deterioration.

the meteoric decline of his career after the scandal

Examples of degeneration in a Sentence

the organization's degeneration from a movement for political reform to just another political party the troubling degeneration of his memory since he reached middle age
Recent Examples on the Web FTDs include frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Pick’s disease, progressive aphasia and semantic dementia. Lauren J. Mapp, San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 Nov. 2023 Death generally results from degeneration or paralysis of the respiratory muscles. Dave Quinn, Peoplemag, 2 Feb. 2024 Even if this skew is roughly matched by male swings rightward, the degeneration of our democracy and our discourse into a battle of the sexes can’t be a positive development. Daniel Foster, National Review, 30 Nov. 2023 For example, horses with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction – similar to Cushing’s disease in people – suffer from tendon and ligament degeneration. Jane Manfredi, The Conversation, 25 July 2023 It is characterized by the gradual breakdown, degeneration, and changes in the discs over time. Amber Smith, Discover Magazine, 25 June 2023 It is characterized by the gradual degeneration of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain, leading to a variety of symptoms including tremors, stiff muscles, confusion, sleep problems and difficulty with balance and coordination. Lauren J. Mapp, San Diego Union-Tribune, 28 Nov. 2023 Especially in the previous century, spinal imaging focused on findings associated with degenerative spinal changes, including disk degeneration and disk herniation. Scientific American, 18 Oct. 2023 These exercises and techniques can help reduce pain, enhance flexibility, and protect the joints from further degeneration. Amber Smith, Discover Magazine, 5 Oct. 2023 See More

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

Word History


see degenerate entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near degeneration

Cite this Entry

“Degeneration.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


de·​gen·​er·​a·​tion di-ˌjen-ə-ˈrā-shən How to pronounce degeneration (audio)
: a lowering of power, vitality, or essential quality to a feebler and poorer kind or state
: a change in a tissue or an organ resulting in lessened activity or usefulness
kidney degeneration in old age
: a condition marked by degeneration of physical parts (as organs) present in related forms
tapeworms exhibit extreme degeneration

Medical Definition


de·​gen·​er·​a·​tion di-ˌjen-ə-ˈrā-shən, ˌdē- How to pronounce degeneration (audio)
: intellectual or moral decline tending toward dissolution of character or integrity : a progressive worsening of personal adjustment
: progressive deterioration of physical characters from a level representing the norm of earlier generations or forms : regression of the morphology of a group or kind of organism toward a simpler less highly organized state
parasitism leads to degeneration
: deterioration of a tissue or an organ in which its vitality is diminished or its structure impaired
especially : deterioration in which specialized cells are replaced by less specialized cells (as in fibrosis or in malignancies) or in which cells are functionally impaired (as by deposition of abnormal matter in the tissue)

More from Merriam-Webster on degeneration

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