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PIE word

The verb is derived from Middle English descenden (to move downwards, fall, descend; to slope downwards; to go from a better to a worse condition, decline, degenerate; to be a descendant, derive from (a source); etc.),[1] from Anglo-Norman descendere, descendre, and Old French descendere, descendre (to move downwards, fall, descend; to slope downwards; to be a descendant, derive from (a source); etc.) (modern French descendre), and from their etymon Latin dēscendere,[2] the present active infinitive of dēscendō (to come or go down, fall, descend; to slope downwards; to be a descendant; etc.), from de- (prefix meaning ‘from; down from’) + scandō (to ascend, climb; to clamber) (from Proto-Indo-European *skend- (to climb, scale; to dart; to jump)).

The noun is derived from the verb.[3]



descend (third-person singular simple present descends, present participle descending, simple past and past participle descended)

  1. Senses relating to moving from a higher to a lower position.
    1. (transitive) To pass from a higher to a lower part of (something, such as a flight of stairs or a slope); to go down along or upon.
      they descended the river in boats    to descend a ladder
    2. (transitive) Of a flight of stairs, a road, etc.: to lead down (a hill, a slope, etc.).
      They took the steep path that descends the hill down to the beach.
    3. (transitive, archaic) To move (someone or something) from a higher to a lower place or position; to bring or send (someone or something) down.
      • a. 1677 (date written), Matthew Hale, “Concerning Vegetables, and Especially Insecta Animalia; whether any of Them are Sponte Orta, or Arise Not rather Ex Præexistente Semine”, in The Primitive Origination of Mankind, Considered and Examined According to the Light of Nature, London: [] William Godbid, for William Shrowsbery, [], published 1677, →OCLC, section III, page 267:
        [T]he common Devv exhaled from ſome ſorts of Herbs or VVeeds, but eſpecially from the common Graſs, carries vvith it the Seminal Tincture of the Herb, vvhich being again deſcended by Devvs or Rain upon the bare and naked Earth, re-produceth the ſame Species: []
    4. (intransitive) To physically move or pass from a higher to a lower place or position; to come or go down in any way, such as by climbing, falling, flowing, walking, etc.; to move downwards; to fall, to sink.
      Antonyms: ascend, climb, go up, rise
      • 1528 September 24 (Gregorian calendar), J[ohn] S[herren] Brewer, compiler, “[A Commission of Sewers for the Marches of Calais, [] Dated Hampton Court, 14 Sept. 20 Hen. VIII.]”, in Letters and papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII. [], volume IV, part II, London: Longman & Co., and Trübner & Co., [], published 1872, →OCLC, paragraph 5102 (Calais), page 2232:
        And there is another watergang, called Haile Fayers watergang, 4 miles long and 16 feet broad, which descendeth by a spoye of stone at Hofkirk bridge into the said great river, which must always be cast at the tenants' cost.
      • 1534 (date written; published 1553), Thomas More, “A Dyalogue of Comforte agaynste Tribulacyon, []. Of the Deuill Named Negotium Perambulans in Tenebris, that is to Wit, Busines Walking in the Darkenesses.”, in Wyllyam Rastell [i.e., William Rastell], editor, The Workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght, [], London: [] Iohn Cawod, Iohn Waly, and Richarde Tottell, published April 1557, →OCLC, book II, page 1124, column 2:
        They leade theyr life in pleaſure, & at a poppe, down they deſcende into hell.
      • 1549 March 7, Thomas Cranmer [et al.], compilers, “An Ordre for Euensong throughout the Yeare”, in The Booke of the Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacramentes, [], London: [] Edowardi Whitchurche [], →OCLC, folio vii, recto:
        So God and man is one Chriſte. / Who ſuffered for oure ſaluacion: deſcended into hell, roſe agayne the third daye from the dead. / He aſcended into heauen, he ſytteth on the right hand of the father, God almighty: from whence he ſhall come to iudge the quicke and dead.
      • 1606, Anth[ony] Langvier, “A Caueat or Lesson of Instruction vnto the Reader, []”, in Charles Steuens [i.e., Charles Estienne], John Liebault [i.e., Jean Liébault], translated by Richard Surflet, Maison Rustique, or The Countrey Farme: [], London: [] Arnold Hatfield for Iohn Norton and Iohn Bill, →OCLC, book I:
        [] Noe [i.e., Noah] vvith his familie comming out of the arke vpon the top of the mount Cordicus, deſcended into the plaine at the foote of the mountaine filled vvith dead bodies (vvhich is called Miri Adam, vvhich is as much as the place of bovvelled men) []
      • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Matthew 7:25, column 1:
        And the raine deſcended, and the floods came, and the windes blew, and beat vpon that houſe; and it fell not: for it was founded vpon a rock.
      • 1678, John Bunyan, “The Author’s Apology for His Book”, in The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That which is to Come: [], London: [] Nath[aniel] Ponder [], →OCLC; reprinted in The Pilgrim’s Progress (The Noel Douglas Replicas), London: Noel Douglas, [], 1928, →OCLC:
        Dark Clouds bring VVaters, vvhen the bright bring none / Yea, dark or bright, if they their Silver drops / Cause to deſcend, the Earth, by yielding crops, / Gives praiſe to both, and carpeth not at either, / But treaſures up the Fruit they yield together: []
      • 1648, Robert Herrick, “[Encomiastic Verses.] To His Learned Friend, M. Jo[hn] Harmar, Physician to the College of Westminster.”, in Hesperides: Or, The Works both Humane & Divine [], London: [] John Williams, and Francis Eglesfield, and are to be sold by Tho[mas] Hunt, [], →OCLC; republished as Henry G. Clarke, editor, Hesperides, or Works both Human and Divine, volume II, London: H. G. Clarke and Co., [], 1844, →OCLC, page 176:
        But this I know, should Jupiter again / Descend from heaven, to re-converse with men; / The Roman language, full and superfine, / If Jove would speak, he would accept of thine.
        The spelling has been modernized.
      • 1818, [Mary Shelley], chapter II, in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. [], volume II, London: [] [Macdonald and Son] for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, →OCLC, page 31:
        The air was cold, and the rain again began to descend: we entered the hut, the fiend with an air of exultation, I with a heavy heart and depressed spirits.
      • a. 1862 (date written), Arthur Hugh Clough, “[Untitled poem]”, in Poems: With a Memoir, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire; London: Macmillan and Co. [], published 1862, →OCLC, page 76:
        O stream descending to the sea, / Thy mossy banks between, / The flow'rets blow, the grasses grow, / The leafy trees are green. // In garden plots the children play, / The fields the labourers till, / And houses stand on either hand, / And thou descendest still.
      • 1841, Edward William Lane, transl., The Thousand and One Nights, Commonly Called, in England, The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. [], volume III, London: Charles Knight and Co., [], →OCLC, page 453:
        And they accosted the sheykh Abu-r-Ruweysh and said to him, O our sheykh, Bahrám practised a strategem to effect his ascent to the top of the mountain, and how did he descend, and what wonders did he see upon the mountain? The sheykh Abu-r-Ruweysh therefore said, O Ḥasan, tell them how thou descendedst, and acquaint them with the wonders that thou sawest.
      • 1844, Alexander Watson, “Whit Sunday. [A Prayer for Whitsuntide.]”, in The Churchman’s Sunday Evenings at Home, volume II, London: W. J. Cleaver, []; Rugeley, Staffordshire: J. T. Walters, →OCLC, page 163:
        Let that mighty rushing wind, in which aforetime Thou descendedst, purge away the chaff of our carnal affections, and with a holy violence beat down our strongholds of sin, and all the proud imaginations that resist Thy grace.
      • 1934, J[ohn] B[oynton] Priestley, “To East Durham and the Tees”, in English Journey [], London: William Heinemann in association with Victor Gollancz, →OCLC, section 1, page 330:
        As it is, the miner is one of the most overworked and deplorably underpaid men in the country. [] I know very well that if your supply of coal depended on my walking several miles to a pithead, descending in a cage for half a mile, walking again to the dwindling tunnel where I had to work, then slogging away for about seven hours in that hell, all for something like two pounds a week, your grates would be empty.
      • 2001 May, John Griesemer, chapter 20, in No One Thinks of Greenland, New York, N.Y.: Picador, →ISBN, page 187:
        Rudy felt a gust of fear rise in his chest, and he looked again in the mirror, but the hangar and stable were now beyond the rise, out of sight, he was descending so fast.
      1. (astrology) Of a zodiac sign: to move away from the zenith towards the horizon; to sink; also, of a planet: to move to a place where it has less astrological significance.
      2. (astronomy) Of a celestial body: to move away from the zenith towards the horizon; to sink; also, to move towards the south.
        • 1667, John Milton, “Book IV”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], →OCLC; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC, lines 540–543:
          [T]he ſetting Sun / Slowly deſcended, and with right aſpect / Againſt the eaſtern Gate of Paradiſe / Leveld his eevning Rayes: []
        • 1818, [Mary Shelley], chapter VI, in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. [], volume III, London: [] [Macdonald and Son] for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, →OCLC, pages 116–117:
          The moon had reached her summit in the heavens and was beginning to descend; the clouds swept across it swifter than the flight of the vulture and dimmed her rays, while the lake reflected the scene of the busy heavens, rendered still busier by the restless waves that were beginning to rise.
        • a. 1836 (date written), James Hogg, Flodden Field; republished in Robert Murray, “James Hogg”, in Hawick Songs and Song Writers, 3rd edition, Hawick, Roxburghshire: W. & J. Kennedy, 1897, →OCLC, page 31:
          Sol, with broaden'd orb, descending, / Left fierce warriors still contending, / Brilliant Vesper shed her glances, / Ere they sheathed their blood-stained lances.
      3. (biology, physiology) Of a body part: to move downwards, especially during development of the embryo; specifically, of the testes of a mammal: to move downwards from the abdominal cavity into the scrotum.
        Cryptorchidism is the failure of one or both testes to descend into the scrotum.
      4. (chemistry, obsolete) Of a liquid substance: to distil out from another substance and gather at the bottom of a container; also, to distil a substance to obtain another liquid substance in this manner.
    5. (intransitive) To slope or stretch downwards.
    6. (intransitive, chiefly historical) To alight from a carriage, a horse, etc.; also, to disembark from a vessel; to land.
      • 1726, Homer, “Book XV”, in [Alexander Pope], transl., The Odyssey of Homer. [], volume IV, London: [] Bernard Lintot, →OCLC, page 48, lines 437–440:
        Their ſails they loos'd, they laſh'd the maſt aſide, / And caſt their anchors, and the cables ty'd: / Then on the breezy ſhore deſcending, join / In grateful banquet o'er the roſy vvine.
      • 1873, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], Charles Dudley Warner, chapter XVII, in The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-day, Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, published 1874, →OCLC, page 164:
        About ten o'clock a horse and wagon was descried making a slow approach to the camp over the prairie. [] When the conveyance at length drew up to Mr. Thompson's door, the gentleman descended with great deliberation, straightened himself up, rubbed his hands, and beaming satisfaction from every part of his radiant frame, advanced to the group that was gathered to welcome him, and which had saluted him by name as soon as he came within hearing.
    7. (intransitive, figurative)
      1. To come or go down, or reduce, in intensity or some other quality.
      2. Of a physical thing (such as a a cloud or storm) or a (generally negative) immaterial thing (such as darkness, gloom, or silence): to settle upon and start to affect a person or place.
      3. In speech or writing: to proceed from one matter to another; especially, to pass from more general or important to specific or less important matters to be considered.
      4. Chiefly followed by into or to: of a situation: to become worse; to decline, to deteriorate.
        Synonym: degenerate
        The meeting descended into chaos.
      5. Chiefly followed by on or upon: to make an attack or incursion, from or as if from a vantage ground; to come suddenly and with violence.
      6. Chiefly followed by on or upon: to arrive suddenly or unexpectedly, especially in a manner that causes disruption or inconvenience.
        My neighbour descended upon me just as I was walking out the door.
      7. (reflexive) To come down to a humbler or less fortunate, or a worse or less virtuous, rank or state; to abase or lower oneself; to condescend or stoop to something.
        He descended from his high estate.
        • 1608, Jos[eph] Hall, “Of the Truly-noble”, in Characters of Vertues and Vices: [], London: [] Melch[isidec] Bradwood for Eleazar Edgar and Samuel Macham, [], →OCLC, 1st book (Characterismes of Vertues), page 54:
          [I]f (as ſeldome) he deſcend to diſports of chance, his games ſhall neuer make him either pale vvith feare, or hote vvith deſire of gaine.
        • 1667, John Milton, “Book VIII”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], →OCLC; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC, lines 168–171:
          But what will not Ambition and Revenge / Deſcend to? vvho aſpires muſt down as low / As high he ſoard, obnoxious firſt or laſt / To baſeſt things.
        • 1752 March 28, Samuel Johnson, “No. 208. [Tuesday], March 17. 1752 [Julian calendar].”, in The Rambler, volume VIII, Edinburgh: [] Sands, Murray, and Cochran; sold by W. Gordon, C. Wright, J. Yair, [], published 1752, →OCLC, page 171:
          If I have not been diſtinguiſhed by the diſtributers of literary honours, I have ſeldom deſcended to any of the arts by vvhich favour is obtained.
        • 1813, Lord Byron, The Giaour, a Fragment of a Turkish Tale, 8th edition, London: [] Thomas Davison, [], for John Murray, [], →OCLC, page 42, lines 850–852:
          Not oft to smile descendeth he, / And when he doth 'tis sad to see / That he but mocks at Misery.
        • 1827 March, Thomas Babington Macaulay, “[Niccolò] Machiavelli. []”, in Critical and Historical Essays, Contributed to the Edinburgh Review. [], 2nd edition, volume I, London: [] Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, [], published 1843, →OCLC, page 92:
          But that a shrewd statesman, whose earliest works are characterised by manliness of thought and language, should, at near sixty years of age, descend to such puerility, is utterly inconceivable.
      8. (reflexive, chiefly poetic or religion) Chiefly in the form descend into (or within) oneself: to mentally enter a state of (deep) meditation or thought; to retire.
      9. (mathematics) Of a sequence or series: to proceed from higher to lower values.
        • 1715, George Cheyne, “Of the Use of the Arithmetick of Infinites. Corollary I.”, in Philosophical Principles of Religion: Natural and Revealed: [] Philosophical Principles of Religion. Part II. [], London: [] George Strahan [], →OCLC, page 162:
          Indefinite numbers I ſuppoſe to be intermediate Numbers lying betvveen finite and infinite: For as vve do not deſcend from 1 to 0 at one Step, but muſt paſs through an infinite Series of Fractions, ½, ⅓, ¼, 15, &c.
      10. (music) To pass from a higher to a lower note or tone; to fall in pitch.
  2. Senses relating to passing down from a source to another thing.
    1. (transitive, obsolete, rare) To trace (a lineage) from earlier to later generations.
    2. (intransitive) Of a characteristic: to be transmitted from a parent to a child.
      • 1713 December 19 (Gregorian calendar), Richard Steele, “December 8. [1713].”, in The Englishman: Being the Sequel of the Guardian, collected edition, number 28, London: [] Sam[uel] Buckley [], published 1714, →OCLC, page 182:
        [T]he eternal Mark of having had a vvicked Anceſtor deſcends to his Poſterity; his VVife is deprived of her Dovvry, and all his Deſcendants are made ignoble: []
    3. (intransitive, often passive voice) Chiefly followed by from or (obsolete) of: to come down or derive from an ancestor or ancestral stock, or a source; to originate, to stem.
      The beggar may descend from a prince.
    4. (intransitive, chiefly law) Of property, a right, etc.: to pass down to a generation, a person, etc., by inheritance.
      The crown descends to the heir of the previous monarch.


Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



descend (plural descends)

  1. (archaic) Synonym of descent (instance of descending; sloping incline or passage; way down; decline, etc.)
    • 1607, Gervase Markham, “Of a Horses Labour or Exercise, and how He shall be Ordered when He is Iourneyed”, in Cauelarice, or The English Horseman: [], London: [] [Edward Allde and W[illiam] Jaggard] for Edward White, [], →OCLC, 5th book, page 33:
      [I]t ſhall be good if in your iourney you come to the deſcend of anye great Hil, to light from your Horſes backe, and to vvalke dovvne the hill a foote, []



  1. ^ dē̆scenden, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ descend, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2024; descend, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ descend, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023.

Further reading[edit]






  1. third-person singular present indicative of descendre