noun (1)
des·​ert | \ ˈde-zərt How to pronounce desert (audio) \

Definition of desert

 (Entry 1 of 4)

1 : arid land with usually sparse vegetation especially : such land having a very warm climate and receiving less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of sporadic rainfall annually
2 : an area of water apparently devoid of life
3 : a desolate or forbidding area lost in a desert of doubt
4 archaic : a wild uninhabited and uncultivated tract


des·​ert | \ ˈde-zərt How to pronounce desert (audio) \

Definition of desert (Entry 2 of 4)

1 : desolate and sparsely occupied or unoccupied a desert island
2 : of or relating to a desert (see desert entry 1)
3 archaic : forsaken


de·​sert | \ di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio) \
deserted; deserting; deserts

Definition of desert (Entry 3 of 4)

transitive verb

1 : to withdraw from or leave usually without intent to return desert a town
2a : to leave in the lurch desert a friend in trouble
b : to abandon (military service) without leave

intransitive verb

: to quit one's post, allegiance, or service without leave or justification especially : to abandon military duty without leave and without intent to return


noun (2)
de·​sert | \ di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio) \

Definition of desert (Entry 4 of 4)

1 : deserved reward or punishment usually used in plural got their just deserts
2 : the quality or fact of meriting reward or punishment

Other Words from desert

Noun (1)

desertic \ de-​ˈzər-​tik How to pronounce desert (audio) \ adjective
desertlike \ ˈde-​zərt-​ˌlīk How to pronounce desert (audio) \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for desert


abandon, desert, forsake mean to leave without intending to return. abandon suggests that the thing or person left may be helpless without protection. abandoned children desert implies that the object left may be weakened but not destroyed by one's absence. a deserted town forsake suggests an action more likely to bring impoverishment or bereavement to that which is forsaken than its exposure to physical dangers. a forsaken lover

Where does the phrase just deserts come from?

Why do we say that someone has gotten their just deserts? Does this turn of phrase have anything to do with dessert (“a sweet food eaten at the end of a meal”) or desert (“a dry land with few plants and little rainfall”)? In fact, the phrase employs neither of these words. Instead, it uses a completely unrelated word that happens to be pronounced like the word for sweets and spelled like the one for a dry place: desert, meaning “reward or punishment deserved or earned by one’s qualities or acts.” This little-used noun is, as you might have guessed, related to the English verb deserve. It has nothing to do with arid, dry land, or with cookies and ice cream.

Examples of desert in a Sentence

Noun (1) Satellite images taken this year and 20 years ago show that the desert is in retreat thanks to a resurgence of trees. — Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, 14-20 Oct. 2006 The coastal plain is a desert in terms of precipitation—less than six inches fall annually—but what falls as snow stays to be later distributed by the wind. — John Hildebrand, Harper's, November 2003 The house finch, a songbird native to the Western desert, has proved to be highly adaptable, having rapidly colonized the Eastern states after its release on Long Island in the early 1940's. — Jane E. Brody, New York Times, 1 Jan. 2002 Adjective While my very American mother swabbed the dishes, Dad lingered at the dinner table, recreating in visceral detail the taste of mint in a Bedouin teacup under a desert sky, or the golden plumage of his father's saluki dogs, or the filigreed robes of the young king at the camel races. — Diana Abu-Jaber, Vogue, May 2007 … the place in the Texas Panhandle where Highway 66 rolled down off the land of farms and ranches into the beginnings of the desert grassland and red-rock country that dominated New Mexico. — Susan Croce Kelly, Route 66, 1988 Verb Boulet saw his longtime partner desert him in the midst of the storm, then had his wife and daughter skip town in its aftermath. — Mike Flaherty, TV Guide, 10-16 Sept. 2007 Left alone for a moment, he feels mournful, bereft—and then panicky, when he thinks he has been deserted again. — Richard Corliss, Time, 7 Mar. 2005 But now the building seemed deserted at two in the afternoon, and I soon learned that the paper, incredibly, was forced to advertise for applicants to the staff. — Arthur Miller, Timebends, 1987 The inhabitants had deserted the town. She had been married for just over a year when her husband deserted her. He was deserted by his friends and family. See More

First Known Use of desert

Noun (1)

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1603, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Noun (2)

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for desert

Noun (1) and Adjective

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin desertum, from Latin, neuter of desertus, past participle of deserere to desert, from de- + serere to join together — more at series


French déserter, from Late Latin desertare, frequentative of Latin deserere

Noun (2)

Middle English deserte, from Anglo-French, from feminine of desert, past participle of deservir to deserve

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Time Traveler for desert

Time Traveler

The first known use of desert was in the 13th century

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Cite this Entry

“Desert.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Sep. 2022.

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More Definitions for desert


des·​ert | \ ˈde-zərt How to pronounce desert (audio) \

Kids Definition of desert

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: a dry land with few plants and little rainfall


de·​sert | \ di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio) \

Kids Definition of desert (Entry 2 of 3)

: a reward or punishment that a person deserves He got his just deserts.


de·​sert | \ di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio) \
deserted; deserting

Kids Definition of desert (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : to leave usually without intending to return The entire population deserted the town.
2 : to leave a person or a thing that one should stay with The soldier did not desert his post.
3 : to fail in time of need My courage deserted me.

Other Words from desert

deserter noun

More from Merriam-Webster on desert

Nglish: Translation of desert for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of desert for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about desert


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