Decent vs. descent

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Decent is an adjective describing people and things that are (1) polite and respectable, and (2) passable or adequate. Descent is a noun referring to (1) an act or instance of going downward, (2) a way down, (3) hereditary lineage, and (4) a sudden visit or attack.


Decent and descent are not easily confused in speech because they are pronounced differently. But in writing they are often mixed up (especially decent in place of descent)—for example:

But, after a rocky decent into Shreveport and a quick stop to rent a car, I’ve arrived. [Fayetteville Observer]

All of them accuse each other of corruption and all of them claim to be clean and descent people with a great sense of integrity. [Global Politican]

Jennifer and Daniel are both of Irish decent and liked the name Nialls. [Kenosha News]

These writers spell the words correctly:

But a rapid descent into hell was imminent. [Guardian]

I’ve seen it about 20 times, but I need to leave a decent amount of time between viewings because it’s just so exhausting to watch. [New Zealand Herald]

Fatih Temelli is one of at least four European citizens of Turkish or Arab descent who have spent time in Pakistan’s Waziristan region. [New York Times]

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