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des·​cant ˈde-ˌskant How to pronounce descant (audio)
variants or less commonly discant
: a melody or counterpoint sung above the plainsong of the tenor
: the art of composing or improvising contrapuntal part music
also : the music so composed or improvised
: a superimposed counterpoint to a simple melody sung typically by some or all of the sopranos
: discourse or comment on a theme


2 of 2


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

intransitive verb

: 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 world-famous soprano descanted above the melody line
Recent Examples on the Web
Bart, too idiosyncratic merely to copy the idiosyncrasies of the movie’s Christopher Lloyd, instead adds a descant of commentary atop them, sometimes seeming to extemporize a different show entirely. Jesse Green, New York Times, 3 Aug. 2023 Then comes a longer descant of mixed-up work, including bad versions of pop tunes and ambitious attempts at pop epics. Adam Gopni, The New Yorker, 4 Aug. 2021 For seven decades, Katz has been providing a visual descant to the work of the New York School of poets, many of whom were his friends. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 29 Oct. 2022 Birds provided an intermittent descant to the insect buzz and the drone of a distant tractor. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 2 Oct. 2022 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 See More

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

Word History



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

First Known Use


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


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near descant

Cite this Entry

“Descant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
des·​cant ˈdes-ˌkant How to pronounce descant (audio)
: a melody sung or played usually above a principal melody
: a discussion or comment on a subject


2 of 2 verb
: to sing or play a descant
: to talk or write at length
descanted on foreign films

More from Merriam-Webster on descant

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