de·​tri·​tus di-ˈtrī-təs How to pronounce detritus (audio)
plural detritus di-ˈtrī-təs How to pronounce detritus (audio)
geology : loose material (such as rock fragments or organic particles) that results directly from disintegration
: a product of disintegration, destruction, or wearing away : debris
: miscellaneous remnants : odds and ends
still picking up detritus from the block party
… sifting through the detritus of his childhood …Michael Tomasky
detrital adjective

Did you know?

If you use detritus in speech, remember to stress the second syllable, as you do in the words arthritis and bronchitis. Once you've mastered its meaning and pronunciation, you’ll find that detritus is a term—originally a geology term referring to loose material, such as broken rock fragments, resulting from disintegration—that can be applied in many situations. After the first hard freeze of fall, gardens are littered with the detritus of summer’s plants and produce: stalks, leaves, vines, and maybe even an abandoned hand trowel. As a flood-swollen river retreats to its banks, it leaves detritus—debris gathered by the raging waters—in its wake. The detritus of civilization may include junkyards and abandoned buildings, while mental detritus may include all kinds of useless trivia. (We’re not saying it qualifies as such, but detritus comes from the Latin root deterere, meaning “to wear away, impair.”)

Did you know?

How Do You Pronounce detritus?

After the first hard freeze of fall, gardens are sadly littered with the detritus of the summer's plants and produce: stalks, leaves, vines, rotted vegetables, and maybe even a hand trowel left behind. As the flooding Mississippi River retreats back to its ordinary course, it leaves detritus behind in its wake, debris gathered from everywhere by the raging waters. The detritus of civilization may include junkyards and abandoned buildings; mental detritus may include all kinds of useless trivia. Notice how this word is pronounced; for some reason, people often try to accent the first syllable rather than the second.

Examples of detritus in a Sentence

the detritus of ancient civilizations As he packed, he sifted through the detritus of a failed relationship.
Recent Examples on the Web However, neurons destroy their cellular detritus throughout their life spans, while oocytes store them and then wipe them out all at once. Quanta Magazine, 13 May 2024 These objects are juxtaposed alongside digital detritus — circuit boards, resistors — that line the wooden boxes like wallpaper. Evan Nicole Brown, New York Times, 8 May 2024 The detritus is global: a Russian pouch of dry milk, good for infants ages 6 to 12 months; a Chinese towelette; Mexican pesos. Francine Kiefer, The Christian Science Monitor, 25 Apr. 2024 Try to place your garden away from trees to keep debris from falling in because as plant detritus builds up and breaks down, unwanted weed seedlings could germinate and start growing. Caitlin Huson, Washington Post, 16 Apr. 2024 Then, attack surfaces (porch floors, deck rails) where dirt, leaves or other detritus have accumulated with a wet/dry vacuum or broom, followed by a wipe down with a wet rag or a rinse from the garden hose. Jennifer Barger, Washington Post, 10 Apr. 2024 The Barbie pig grazes upon the small amounts of detritus that descend from surface waters to the seabed and are important in terms of cycling organic matter, explained Drennan, who wasn’t directly involved in the expedition. Katie Hunt, CNN, 3 Apr. 2024 The designers of This Discord Has Ghosts in It, Will Jobst and Adam Vass, set out to re-create a specific kind of detritus that shapes our experience and communication on the internet: the IRC messages, the C-boxes, the replies and DMs that linger online long after a conversation is done. Camille Butera, WIRED, 1 Apr. 2024 The floor is littered with the general detritus of parenting — diaper boxes, unopened Amazon packages, tiny hot-pink Crocs. Ej Dickson, Rolling Stone, 19 Mar. 2024

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

Word History


French détritus, from Latin detritus, past participle of deterere — see detriment

First Known Use

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of detritus was in 1802


Dictionary Entries Near detritus

Cite this Entry

“Detritus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


de·​tri·​tus di-ˈtrīt-əs How to pronounce detritus (audio)
plural detritus
: loose material that results directly from the natural breaking up of rocks
: a product of disintegration or wearing away

Medical Definition


de·​tri·​tus di-ˈtrīt-əs How to pronounce detritus (audio)
: loose material resulting from disintegration (as of tissue)

More from Merriam-Webster on detritus

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