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From Middle English declinen, from Old French decliner, from Latin declinare (to bend, turn aside, deflect, inflect, decline), from de (down) + clīnō (I bend, I incline), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱley- (English lean), reanalyzed root of *ḱléyti, from *ḱel- (to cover) +‎ *-éyti (*éy-present suffix).


  • IPA(key)/dɪˈklaɪn/
  • Hyphenation: de‧cline


decline (countable and uncountableplural declines)

  1. Downward movement, fall.
  2. A sloping downward, e.g. of a hill or road.
  3. A weakening.
  4. A reduction or diminution of activity.
  5. The act of declining or refusing something.


decline (third-person singular simple present declinespresent participle decliningsimple past, and past participle declined)

  1. (intransitive) To move downwards, to fall, to drop.
    The dollar has declined rapidly since 2001.
  2. (intransitive) To become weaker or worse.
    My health declined in winter.
  3. (transitive) To bend downward; to bring down; to depress; to cause to bend, or fall.
  4. (transitive) To cause to decrease or diminish.
  5. To turn or bend aside; to deviate; to stray; to withdraw.
    a line that declines from straightness.
     conduct that declines from sound morals.
  6. (transitive) To choose not to do something; refuse, forbear, refrain.
    On reflection I think I will decline your generous offer.
  7. (transitive, grammar, usually of substantives, adjectives, and pronouns) To inflect for case, number, and sometimes gender; more specifically, to recite all the different declined forms of a noun.
  8. (by extension) To run through from first to last; to recite in order as though declining a noun.
  9. (American football, Canadian football) To reject a penalty against the opposing team, usually because the result of accepting it would benefit the non-penalized team less than the preceding play.
     The team chose to decline the fifteen-yard penalty because their receiver had caught the ball for a thirty-yard gain.

Usage notes

  • DeclinerefuseforbearrefrainDecline is gentler than refuse and carries a connotation that the non-acceptance is an acceptable or anticipated option (decline an invitation) or the result of a considered decision (the judge declined to grant the motion). Refuse has a stronger connotation of rejection, firmness, resistance, or non-compliance. For example, if someone declines to give their name, that suggests they were given a choice and elected not to give their name. If someone refuses to give their name, the connotation is more toward a suggestion that they normally should have given their name and are being intransigent. Forbear or refrain, conversely, suggest choosing not to do something that one might indulge in or be tempted to do (refrain from smoking), with forbear having an added connotation of showing some fortitude in withstanding the temptation (forbear to show anger). Refrain can also be used to refer to a general policy or preference rather than a choice on a single occasion.
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