de·​scent | \ di-ˈsent How to pronounce descent (audio) \

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

Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descent and Pressley is African American. David Jackson, USA TODAY, "'She is not a racist': Trump sides with Speaker Nancy Pelosi in spat with progressives," 12 July 2019 The alleged manga pirate was described as of Japanese, German and Israeli descent. Zoe Sottile, CNN, "Alleged manga pirate arrested in the Philippines," 10 July 2019 Playing the Festival for the very first time, the soul sisters of Nigerian descent possessed a sound reminiscent of R&B’s glory days during the early-to-mid 90s. Okla Jones, Essence, "The Soulful Sounds Of R&B's Sultry Duo VanJess Heat Up The Stage At The 2019 Essence Festival," 9 July 2019 The babies were also not of Asian descent like the couple, NBC News reports. Julie Mazziotta,, "Couple Says Fertility Clinic Used Wrong Embryos and Wife Gave Birth to Another Family's Twins," 8 July 2019 SpaceX posted video of the half fairing’s descent through the atmosphere, noting that friction heats up particles that appear bright blue. Richard Tribou,, "SpaceX video shows Falcon Heavy fairing return to Earth," 4 July 2019 La Costa Canyon High School senior Matthew Orgera of Carlsbad received the Lou Petrella Scholarship, given to a senior of Italian descent. San Diego Union-Tribune, "North County School News, July 4," 4 July 2019 Radamel Falcao, that reject of both Manchester United and Chelsea descent, was up first., "Reliving England's Hoodoo-Breaking World Cup Penalty Shootout Win Over Colombia One Year on," 3 July 2019 In Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro’s descent into psychosis — precipitated by the government’s near-total disregard for returning Vietnam veterans — is also fueled by Coca-Cola. Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox, "Why Stranger Things is perfect for product promo," 3 July 2019

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

15 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for descent

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

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More Definitions for descent



English Language Learners Definition of descent

: the act or process of going from a higher to a lower place or level
: the act or process or changing to a worse state or condition
: a way of going down something : a downward slope, path, etc.


de·​scent | \ di-ˈsent How to pronounce descent (audio) \

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 How to pronounce descent (audio) \

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

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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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Comments on descent

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to complain fretfully

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