1. Having declined, as in function or nature, from a former or original state: a degenerate form of an ancient folk art.
2. Morally corrupt or given to vice.
3. Physics Relating to two or more quantum states that share the same quantum numbers: degenerate energy levels.
4. Physics Characterized by great density and consisting of atoms stripped of electrons: degenerate matter.
5. Medicine Characterized by degeneration, as of tissue, a cell, or an organ.
6. Biology Having lost one or more highly developed functions, characteristics, or structures through evolution: a degenerate life form.
7. Genetics Relating to or being a gene that has multiple codons for the same amino acid.
A depraved or corrupt person.
intr.v. (-ə-rāt′) de·gen·er·at·ed, de·gen·er·at·ing, de·gen·er·ates
1. To fall below a normal or desirable state, especially functionally or morally; deteriorate: old water pipes that are degenerating with age; a dispute that degenerated into a brawl.
2. To decline in quality: The quality of his writing degenerated as he continued to drink.
3. To undergo degeneration.
[Latin dēgenerātus, past participle of dēgenerāre, to depart from one's own kind, deteriorate : dē-, de- + genus, gener-, race; see genə- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.