1300–50; Middle English < Anglo-French, Old French descente, derivative of descendre to descend, modeled on such pairs as vente, vendre (Source:

Middle English from Old French descente, from descendre ‘to descend’ (see descend). (Source:

Definitions of Descent



  1. the act, process, or fact of moving from a higher to a lower position.
  2. a downward inclination or slope.
  3. a passage or stairway leading down.
  4. derivation from an ancestor; lineage; extraction.
  5. any passing from higher to lower in degree or state; decline.
  6. a sudden raid or hostile attack.
  7. Law. transmission of real property by intestate succession.
  8. the act of descending
  9. a downward slope or inclination
  10. a passage, path, or way leading downwards
  11. derivation from an ancestor or ancestral group; lineage
  12. (in genealogy) a generation in a particular lineage
  13. a decline or degeneration
  14. a movement or passage in degree or state from higher to lower
  15. (often foll by on) a sudden and overwhelming arrival or attack
  16. property law (formerly) the transmission of real property to the heir on an intestacy



  1. The process of descending or falling down from a higher position.
  2. The passage of the presenting part of the fetus into and through the birth canal.



  1. An act of moving downwards, dropping, or falling.
  2. The origin or background of a person in terms of family or nationality.
  3. A sudden violent attack.



  1. : derivation from an ancestor : birth, lineage of French descent patrilineal descent
  2. : transmission or devolution of an estate (see estate entry 1 sense 4b) by inheritance usually in the descending line
  3. : the fact or process of originating from an ancestral stock the descent of modern humans and chimpanzees from a common ancestor
  4. : 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
  5. : the act or process of descending from a higher to a lower level, rank, or state begin our descent down the mountain
  6. : a step downward in a scale of gradation
  7. : an inclination downward : slope a nearly perpendicular descent
  8. : a way (such as a downgrade or stairway) that descends or leads downward
  9. : the lowest part from the extremest upward of thy head to the descent and dust below thy foot— Shakespeare
  10. : attack, invasion descent of the locusts
  11. : a sudden disconcerting appearance (as for a visit) unprepared for the descent of her in-laws
  12. : a downward step (as in station or value) : decline the descent of the family into poverty

Example sentences for Descent

  1. The feisty airline is the brainchild of entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, a Malaysian of Indian descent who also is a British citizen.
  2. But then the summit gives way to the other side of the hill, and a childlike glee arises from the whooooosh of the descent.
  3. His sadness over her descent into shooting up after managing to stay clean for a period is palpable.
  4. This descent and all of its trials serve as metaphors for the brutal task of breaking the chains of guilt, fear, and doubt.
  5. Just 0.5 percent of Ferguson is of Asian descent, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
  6. She is not able to determine the exact line of her descent, but the blood of three races mingles in her veins.
  7. If they had not done so the descent would have been impossible.
  8. On the turn of the hill he proposed to stop, although he must have known that the descent was easy.
  9. From the south side the descent, though wearisome, is feasible.
  10. It is much to be regretted that the descent was ever allowed to take place.

Related words & Synonyms

slide, plunge, origin, extraction, lineage, parentage, slope, declivity, tumble, grade, sag, header, slip, settlement, decline, droop, gradient, swoop, declension, inclination

Nearby words

descending node , descending scapular artery , descension , descensus , descensus testis , deschamps , deschool , deschutes , descloizite , descramble


Descent has been in the English language since the 14th century. The French word from which it descends, descendre, ultimately comes from a Latin term whose literal meaning is “to climb” (scandre) “down” (de-). Though the word descent has been around for over half a millennium, some of its early senses are still in use. In the 1330s one use of descent described familial ancestry. Darwin popularized and expanded this term in Victorian England with his study of the origins of humans and our simian relatives from a common ancestor. This sense is very familiar to speakers of current English who have studied natural history. We also often hear descent in the context of ancestry such as “African descent” or “Scandinavian descent.” Another early use describes an object moving from a higher position to a lower position. Today, we still use this sense when talking about the downward movement of an airplane as it prepares to land. In religious contexts, one might hear about the Descent of Christ into Hell, a sense first appropriated in the 19th century. Be careful not to confuse descent with decent. While it’s easy to leave out just one “s,” people are sure to express dissent (another word not to be confused with descent ) with your diction.

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