The Meaning of Descent: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of descent? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word descent, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word descent mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Language Dictionary and Cambridge English Dictionary, the word descent (pronounced dɪˈsɛnt) is a noun that can either refer to the state of being related to a particular person or group of people from a country or lineage or it can refer to the physical act of going from a higher place to a lower place, or a movement down. This second definition can also be used figuratively. For example, someone could say that they are of African descent or French descent, or that they have a long line of descent from a certain country, referring to their parentage. This word can also describe the act of descending – for example, a plane could make a steep descent to the runway or a stock could take a rapid descent, causing shareholders to lose money. Try using this word of the day in a sentence today!

Many different languages also contain words that mean descent. You may notice that some of these words look and sound similar to the word descent. These are called cognates, which are words and phrases aht look, sound, and mean similar things between languages. These are often formed when two words or languages have a common ancestor or language of origin such as Latin or Greek. This list of translations for the word descent is provided by Word Sense

  • Serbo-Croatian: sílaz‎ (masc.), sìlazak‎ (masc.), spȕst‎ (masc.)
  • Bulgarian: слизане‎ (neut.), спускане‎ (neut.)
  • French: descente‎ (fem.)
  • Dutch: afdaling‎ (fem.)
  • Japanese: 降下‎
  • Portuguese: descida‎ (fem.)
  • Spanish: descenso‎ (masc.)
  • Italian: discesa‎ (fem.)
  • Russian: спуск‎ (masc.), схождение‎ (neut.)
  • Scottish Gaelic: teàrnadh‎ (masc.)
  • Polish: zejście‎ (neut.)
  • German: Abstieg‎ (masc.), Runterweg‎ (masc.) (informal)
  • Czech: sestup‎ (masc.)

What is the origin of the word descent?

According to Etymonline, the word descent has been used since the year 1300 to describe a genealogical extraction from some progenitor. This comes from the Old French descente meaning descendance, from the French descendre, a verb meaning to come down. This is used in the same way that many other nouns from French verbs are formed. The word descent has been used to describe the act of going from a higher to a lower place since the late 14th century, and to refer to a downward slope since the 1590s. The word has been used to refer to an invasion or attack since 1600, and in an evolutionary sense by Darwin since 1859, though some speculate similar usage since the 1630s. Related words include descend, descension, and descendance.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word descent?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word descent. These are called synonyms. Synonyms are useful to know because they can help you avoid repeating yourself as well as expand your vocabulary in an easy-to-learn way. This list of synonyms for the word descent is provided by Thesaurus.

  • diminishing
  • plummeting
  • hill
  • sinking
  • crumbling
  • header
  • falling
  • tumbling
  • declivity
  • declining
  • grade
  • crash
  • subsiding
  • declination
  • sag
  • slope
  • descent
  • drop
  • cave-in
  • slump
  • plunging
  • pitch
  • depression
  • weakening
  • declension
  • fall-off
  • drop-off
  • collapsing
  • lowering
  • dip
  • abating
  • downslide
  • derivation
  • plunge
  • slant
  • descending
  • downtrend
  • precipitation
  • incline
  • toppling
  • downturn
  • settling
  • sinkage
  • topple
  • tailspin
  • slip
  • droop
  • tottering
  • landslide
  • decline
  • loss
  • settlement
  • decrease
  • decreasing
  • gradient
  • downgrade
  • coast
  • tumble
  • slide
  • swoop
  • coming down
  • downswing
  • lapse
  • slipping
  • sliding
  • ebbing
  • fall
  • prolapse
  • inclination

There are also numerous different words that mean the opposite of the word descent. These are called antonyms, and are another great English language tool for improving your vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word descent is also provided by Thesaurus

  • ramp
  • addition
  • climb
  • increase
  • incline
  • boost
  • ascendance
  • grade
  • ascension
  • climbing
  • spread
  • development
  • aggrandizement
  • upturn
  • burgeoning
  • swelling
  • gain
  • access
  • take off
  • exaggeration
  • escalation
  • augmentation
  • accession
  • surge
  • extension
  • growth
  • merger
  • gradient
  • ascending
  • spring
  • upsurge
  • accumulation
  • cumulation
  • hike
  • multiplication
  • intensification
  • rise
  • incorporation
  • mounting
  • clambering
  • inflation
  • upgrade
  • rising
  • waxing
  • increment
  • expansion
  • breakthrough
  • acclivity
  • ascent
  • step-up
  • maximization
  • elaboration
  • optimization
  • accretion
  • accrual
  • scaling
  • lift
  • raise
  • swell
  • enlargement

How can the word descent be used in a sentence?

The word descent can be used in n numerous different ways due to its different definitions. In this first example, Maya had to do a project on her family tree. She presents the project to her class.

Teacher: Maya, tell us where your family comes from.

Maya: Well, my birth parents are of Korean descent, but I never met them. I was adopted by my parents when I was a baby. My mom is Ghanaian and French, and my other mom is Welsh and Italian. My parents are really good at teaching me about Korean culture to keep me connected to my heritage. We all speak Korean, and we go to Seoul every couple of years to visit. 

Here, Maya says that her birth parents are of Korean descent, meaning that they are genetically Korean. In this next example, a pilot addresses the passengers.

Pilot: Now, we’re going to be making a bit of a swift descent into New York because of this wind. Things might get a little bumpy. So please keep your seatbelts fastened. Thank you.

Here, the pilot uses the word descent to describe the plane’s landing.

Overall, the word descent can either refer to someone’s bloodline and where their family and heritage comes from, or it can refer to an instance of descending or making one’s way down from a higher place to a lower place. This second definition can be used literally and figuratively.