Meaning of DECAY in English


I. də̇ˈkā, dēˈ- verb

( -ed/-ing/-s )

Etymology: Middle English decayen, from Old North French decaïr, from Late Latin decadere to fall, sink, from Latin de down, away + cadere to fall — more at de- , chance

intransitive verb


a. archaic : to decline from a prosperous condition

families … decayed into the humble vale of life — Sir Walter Scott

b. : to pass gradually from a comparatively sound or perfect state to one of unsoundness, imperfection, or dissolution

where wealth accumulates and men decay — Oliver Goldsmith

2. : to decrease in quantity, volume, activity, or force : dwindle away

the voices … decayed and died out upon her ear — Thomas Hardy

3. : to fall into physical ruin

the old house decayed from lack of repairs

4. : to decline in health, strength, vigor, or freshness

a mind beginning to decay

5. : to undergo decomposition : rot

fruit decays in the sun

transitive verb

1. obsolete : to cause to decay : impair

infirmity that decays the wise — Shakespeare

2. : to destroy by decomposition : rot

rain and sun decayed the building


decompose , rot , putrefy , spoil , disintegrate , crumble : decay indicates deteriorating change, often gradual, from a sound condition or perfect state

bruised apples decaying quickly

decaying teeth

with huge machines left to rust and decay — American Guide Series: Texas

the Aztec regime and culture collapsed and the native crafts and arts decayed — R.W.Murray

decompose implies breaking down into components or dissolution through corruption

the strong odor of decomposing meat

action of bacteria in decomposing the organic products — A.C.Morrison

after slaying his colleague, he chemically decomposed the body — Leo Guild

rot , applied to animal or vegetable matter, indicates decaying with corruption, often with offensive foulness; otherwise it may indicate enervation or stagnation

fruit rotting in the baskets

the rotting corpses of the Americans and British whom the French allowed to be massacred at Fort William Henry — Cleveland Amory

it was this garrison life. Half civilian, half military, with all the drawbacks of both. It rotted the soul, robbed a man of ambition, faith — Irwin Shaw

putrefy may indicate noisome, extremely offensive, or nauseating rotting

putrefying cadavers

spoil is a less extreme word often used in reference to food to indicate a degree of decay that makes it uneatable

the lettuce will spoil if it is not refrigerated

disintegrate implies a separating of particles or a breaking apart that destroys the entity or integrity of the item in question

mortar disintegrating in the old chimney

icebergs disintegrating in the warm water

if we raise the temperature higher and higher, the metal itself finally disintegrates and becomes a gas — K.K.Darrow

[the] Whig party disintegrated into its component elements — H.S.Commager

crumble implies a slow disintegration with a breaking and falling off of small particles

winter rains had washed and washed against its narrow, faded old bricks until the plaster between them had crumbled — Margaret Deland

still visible, although the stockade itself has long since crumbled, are the outlines of the ancient earthworks — American Guide Series: Michigan

Hood's army, crumbled in morale and depleted by wholesale desertion — American Guide Series: Tennessee

II. noun

( -s )

Etymology: Middle English, from decayen


a. : the condition of a person or thing that has undergone a decline in strength, soundness, or prosperity or has been diminished in degree of excellence or perfection

arts and letters had fallen into decay

b. : a progressive failure of strength, soundness, or prosperity : a diminishing in degree of excellence or perfection

saw a rapid decay of moral principles


a. : the material process of dilapidation : wasting or wearing away : the state of being wasted or worn away : ruin

ancient temples fallen into complete decay

b. obsolete : ruined remains : debris — usually used in plural

3. obsolete : destruction , death , ruin

sullen presage of your own decay — Shakespeare

4. obsolete : a cause of decay

my love was my decay — Shakespeare


a. : rot ; specifically : the aerobic decomposition of proteins chiefly by bacteria in which the products of putrefaction are completely oxidized to stable compounds having no foul odors

b. : the product of decay

remove decay from a tooth


a. archaic : a decline in health or vigor

b. obsolete : the manifestations of age or of decline in health — usually used in plural

c. archaic : a wasting disease ; especially : consumption

7. : decrease in quantity, volume, activity, or force: as

a. : spontaneous decrease in the number of radioactive atoms in radioactive material (as uranium ore)

b. : spontaneous disintegration of an atom, an atomic nucleus, a neutron, or a meson

Webster's New International English Dictionary.      Новый международный словарь английского языка Webster.