Desist Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

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New words are so fun to learn, and we have yet another interesting one for you. Desist is commonly used in law documents, but it’s not uncommon to see it in literature or hear it in everyday conversation. 

If you’re itching to learn more about this word, keep reading — we think you’ll like what you see. 

What Is The Definition of Desist?

The word desist means to stop, cease, or abstain from an action. 

You may have heard this word used in the phrase cease and desist, and now that you know its definition, you can see this word is a perfect choice in context. Now, we’re going to learn about and explain a cease and desist in-depth; it may help you understand this word a bit better. 

A word may gain popularity because of one term or context it’s used in. In the American English language, desist is one of those words. Of course, it can be (and is) used in other contexts, but probably not as often. 

Desist may be considered a more formal word compared to its synonyms. For instance, instead of desist, some people might find words like stop, refrain, or cease to be a better fit in a casual sentence. You can expect to see desist in more sophisticated or advanced writing. 

We’re going to list tons of other synonyms for desist below. Knowing the synonyms of this word — like stop or halt — can be beneficial to your academic and professional career. Any word that fits better into your writing or conversation is worth knowing.

What Is The Origin of Desist?

Knowing the etymology of a word (or word origin) can uncover a new layer of rich and exciting history. If you’re a word nerd and find these facts intriguing, keep reading — desist is your word of the day! 

Desist was first used between 1425 and 1475 during the late middle English period. The word was derived from Old French desister (Latin dēsistere), which meant to leave off.

What Does Cease and Desist Mean? 

If you’ve heard the word desist only when referring to a cease and desist letter, you’re not the only one. 

Considering this word has many synonyms, it’s not uncommon for words similar to it to stand in its place. Desist can come off as very formal, so it’s normal if you’ve only noticed synonyms like halt or stop. 

A cease and desist order is an attempt for lawyers to resolve a dispute between parties. These letters are not filed in court but instead sent to the individuals or businesses involved in the conflict. A cease and desist is often referred to as a “stop harassment letter” or “demand letter.” 

To better understand the term desist, let’s evaluate the term cease. Since these words are paired together, you’ll find learning about cease will increase your knowledge of desist. 

What Does Cease Mean?

By definition, cease means to come to an end, halt, or stop. 

As you can see, these words have very similar meanings, and when paired together, they may even seem redundant. For example, the bird’s song abruptly ceased is the perfect use of cease in a sentence. 

If you break the term cease and desist down, you will see that it means to cease or desist a person’s actions; if continued, there may be legal implications. 

A cease and desist is not a friendly suggestion but a court-appointed order. Even if the activities aren’t technically illegal, a cease and desist can still be given, just as long as the accused party is practicing something out of protocol or contract. 

The point of a cease and desist order is to give the wrongdoers a fair warning before legal implications. It doesn’t automatically start a lawsuit. The letter will state what the party is doing wrong, why they must stop, and what will happen if they decide to ignore these court-appointed orders. 

What Is Desist in Different Parts of Speech?

It’s essential you know the past and present tense of these new words you’re learning. Here is a list of desist’s different parts of speecht: 

  • Desists.
  • Desist.
  • Desisting.
  • Desisted. (past participle)

What Are the Synonyms of Desist?

Synonyms or idioms are fantastic ways to build your mental thesaurus. Here are our favorite synonyms of desist: 

  • Abstain. 
  • Refrain. 
  • Forbear. 
  • Hold back. 
  • Keep. 
  • Stop. 
  • Halt. 
  • Conclude. 
  • Leave off. 
  • Quit. 

What Are Some Examples of Desist in a Sentence?

The best way to learn about a new word on your word list is to see it used in example sentences. Here are our best example sentences of desist.

  • The court document insisted the magazine cease and desist from publishing false information about the singer. 
  • There was a significant copyright violation, so the lawyer issued a cease and desist to the company. 
  • To desist trespassers, the junkyard owners bought a mean and aggressive dog.
  • You’re desisting their efforts to enter the building by telling them no. If they proceed, you can involve law enforcement and explain that they are trespassing.
  • The doctor explained to the patient that he was at high risk of lung cancer; if he didn’t desist from smoking, he would likely get very sick within the following year. 
  • The lifeguards were frustrated with their supervisors; one vocalized, “they can’t expect us to simply desist our duties. We have lots of work to do, weather advisory or not.”


Desist is a professional or more formal way of saying stop or halt. It’s commonly used in the world of law and more sophisticated literature. It’s a word that can make you sound impressive if thrown into a sentence casually. 


Cease and Desist Letter | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

ETYMOLOGY | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary

DESIST | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary