de·​scent | \di-ˈsent \

Definition of descent 

1a : derivation from an ancestor : birth, lineage of French descent patrilineal descent

b : transmission or devolution of an estate (see estate entry 1 sense 4b) by inheritance usually in the descending line

c : the fact or process of originating from an ancestral stock the descent of modern humans and chimpanzees from a common ancestor

d : the shaping or development in nature and character by transmission from a source : derivation … could trace a faint but sure descent from Roman law.— R. W. Southern

2 : the act or process of descending from a higher to a lower level, rank, or state begin our descent down the mountain

3 : a step downward in a scale of gradation specifically : one generation in an ancestral line or genealogical scale His pedigree shows eleven descents.

4a : an inclination downward : slope a nearly perpendicular descent

b : a way (such as a downgrade or stairway) that descends or leads downward

c obsolete : the lowest part from the extremest upward of thy head to the descent and dust below thy foot— Shakespeare

5a : attack, invasion descent of the locusts

b : a sudden disconcerting appearance (as for a visit) unprepared for the descent of her in-laws

6 : a downward step (as in station or value) : decline the descent of the family into poverty

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Synonyms & Antonyms for descent


dip, dive, down, drop, fall, nosedive, plunge


ascent, climb, rise, rising, soaring, upswing, upturn

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Examples of descent in a Sentence

The book describes his descent into a deep depression after the death of his wife. her slow descent to a life of addiction The only path that goes down to the river is a rather steep descent, so be careful.
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Recent Examples on the Web

How does that track with your experience at that time as a British person of Asian descent? Julia Felsenthal, Marie Claire, "Crazy Rich Asians Star Gemma Chan Joins the Royal Court in Mary Queen of Scots," 29 Nov. 2018 Yet the show didn’t cast its first model of Asian descent until nearly a decade and a half into its existence, with the hiring of Liu Wen in 2009. Rebecca Jennings, Vox, "The stubborn irrelevance of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show," 8 Nov. 2018 Incredibly, Katrina's doctor believes that as the sisters are not of Asian descent and have no history of the condition in the family, their cases are a rare coincidence. Fox News, "Sisters diagnosed with rare disease weeks apart recovering from brain surgeries," 28 Sep. 2018 She's focused many of her red-carpet outfits around creations by Asian designers and those of Asian descent. Krystin Arneson, Glamour, "All the Looks Crazy Rich Asians Star Gemma Chan Has Worn to Promote Asian Designers," 26 Aug. 2018 Oh made history as the first woman of Asian descent ever nominated for best leading actress in a drama series. Anna Millard,, "Ellen Pompeo’s Reaction To Sandra Oh’s Emmy Nom Has Grey’s Fans Celebrating," 14 July 2018 The nomination also made her the first woman of Asian descent nominated in that category. Omar Sanchez, The Hollywood Reporter, "Emmy Polls: Who Should Win?," 12 July 2018 Throughout the spacecraft's descent, two little CubeSats followed its trajectory from orbit and transmitted data for most of the journey. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "NASA does it again by landing safely on Mars—something no one else has done," 26 Nov. 2018 An Air China Boeing 737 en route from Hong Kong to Dalian plummeted 25,000 feet after the pilots triggered an emergency descent by smoking illegally in the cockpit. Trefor Moss, WSJ, "Engine Trouble: Chinese Airline Mishaps Put Spotlight on Pilots," 24 Nov. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'descent.' 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 descent

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

History and Etymology for descent

Middle English, from Anglo-French descente, from Anglo-French descendre — see descend

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Statistics for descent

Last Updated

16 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for descent

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

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More Definitions for descent


de·​scent | \di-ˈsent \

Kids Definition of descent

1 : an act of coming or going down in location or condition The plane began its descent.

2 : a downward slope a steep descent

3 : a person's ancestors She is of Korean descent.


de·​scent | \di-ˈsent \

Medical Definition of descent 

1 : the act or process of descending from a higher to a lower location descent of the testes into the scrotum

2a : derivation from an ancestor

b : the fact or process of originating by generation from an ancestral stock (as a species or genus)

3 : a former method of distillation in which the material was heated in a vessel having its outlet underneath so that the vapors produced were forced to descend



Legal Definition of descent 

: transmission or devolution of the estate of a person who has died without a valid will — compare distribution

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