des·​cant | \ ˈde-ˌskant How to pronounce descant (audio) \
variants: or less commonly discant \ ˈdi-​ˌskant How to pronounce descant (audio) \

Definition of descant

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a melody or counterpoint sung above the plainsong of the tenor
b : the art of composing or improvising contrapuntal part music also : the music so composed or improvised
d : a superimposed counterpoint to a simple melody sung typically by some or all of the sopranos
2 : discourse or comment on a theme


des·​cant | \ ˈdes-ˌkant How to pronounce descant (audio) , de-ˈskant How to pronounce descant (audio) , di-ˈskant \
descanted; descanting; descants

Definition of descant (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to sing or play a descant broadly : sing

Did you know?

The prefix des-, meaning "two" or "apart", indicates that the descant is a "second song" apart from the main melody. In popular songs a descant will often be sung at the very end to produce a thrilling climax.

Examples of descant in a Sentence

Verb an English professor who loves to descant on his beloved Shakespeare the soprano descanted above the melody line
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The Hynde storyline, which includes her messing around with songs on an acoustic guitar, runs as a kind of descant against the personal and professional noise of the Pistols. Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, 31 May 2022 This is a dark and defensive descant to a more substantial and necessary conversation about whiteness in America. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 3 July 2019

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

First Known Use of descant


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for descant


Middle English dyscant, from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French descaunt, from Medieval Latin discantus, from Latin dis- + cantus song — more at chant

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The first known use of descant was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Descant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Aug. 2022.

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