It’s interesting the impact an “s” can have on a word. Of course, many words find their numbers increase with an “s” added to the end of them. But what happens if you drop a single “s” into the middle of a word like decent? Well, for some folks, it may make it more difficult to know when you’re using the correct word.
(Grammar Rules for Writers.)
Learn when you’re using decent vs. descent in your writing with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples.
Decent vs. Descent
Decent is an adjective that is used in a few different situations. For instance, it can be used to describe a person, place, or thing that fits with a culture’s standards and/or is the opposite of something that is considered obscene or immoral. It also refers to someone or something that is not exceptional, but still acceptable. And a person with a strong moral compass is referred to as decent.
(6 Ways to Fight Your Inner Critics.)
Descent, on the other hand, is a noun that refers to people and things that move down, though not always in a physical sense. A descent down a flight of stairs would be physical, but a person who has ancestors who lived in France would be of French descent. As such, descent is a popular term in genealogy. But descent can also refer to a downward trajectory in several other ways, including the descent of a family’s fortune, the descent of an airplane, or the descent of a state’s power.
Here are a couple examples of decent and descent:
Correct: That hatchback was not flashy, but it was a decent car for a teen driver.
Incorrect: That hatchback was not flashy, but it was a descent car for a teen driver.
Correct: He watched her descent down the escalator with batted breath.
Incorrect: He watched her decent down the escalator with batted breath.
Of course, many popular stories are focused on the descent of a decent person who may or may not be able to get back on track. But are there any tricks for remembering when to use the correct term?
Here’s my best try, though welcome other tricks in the comments below: Think of the shorter “decent” as the perfectly acceptable, moral, and possibly understated adjective. Then, think of the “s” in “descent” as a set of descending stais and apply it appropriately to your situation, whether we’re talking family trees or, well, stairs.
No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.
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