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From Middle English decenden, borrowed from Old French descendre, from Latin descendere, past participle descensus (to come down, go down, fall, sink), from de- (down) + scandere (to climb). See scan, scandent. Compare ascend, condescend, transcend.


  • IPA(key): /dɪˈsɛnd/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation (US): de‧scend; (UK): des‧cend
  • Rhymes: -ɛnd


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

  1. (intransitive) To pass from a higher to a lower place; to move downwards; to come or go down in any way, for example by falling, flowing, walking, climbing etc.
    • 2002, John Griesemer, No One Thinks of Greenland: A Novel:
      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.
    • 1648, Thomas Fuller, The History of the University of Cambridge since the Conquest
      We will here descend to matters of later date.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Matthew 7:25:
      And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
  2. (intransitive, poetic) To enter mentally; to retire.
  3. (intransitive, with on or upon) To make an attack, or incursion, as if from a vantage ground; to come suddenly and with violence.
    • 2013, Deltrice Alfred Grossmith, Arctic Warriors: A Personal Account of Convoy PQ18:
      more aircraft descending on us than had done during previous visits from the snoopers in their usual ones and twos.
    • 1726, Alexander Pope, Odyssey:
    And on the suitors let thy wrath descend.
  4. (intransitive) To come down to a lower, less fortunate, humbler, less virtuous, or worse, state or rank; to lower or abase oneself
    He descended from his high estate.
    • August 25, 1759, Samuel Johnson, The Idler No. 71
      He [] began to descend to familiar questions, endeavouring to accommodate his discourse to the grossness of rustic understandings.
  5. (intransitive) To pass from the more general or important to the specific or less important matters to be considered.
  6. (intransitive) To come down, as from a source, original, or stock
  7. to be derived (from)
  8. to proceed by generation or by transmission; to happen by inheritance.
    • 1890, James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, volume 2, page 217:
      The possession of the sacred fire and of the ancestral sticks, carrying with it both political authority and priestly dignity, descends in the male line.
    The beggar may descend from a prince.
    A crown descends to the heir.
  9. (intransitive, astronomy) To move toward the south, or to the southward.
  10. (intransitive, music) To fall in pitch; to pass from a higher to a lower tone.
  11. (transitive) To go down upon or along; to pass from a higher to a lower part of
    they descended the river in boats; to descend a ladder



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  1. third-person singular present indicative of descendre