Meaning of “decay” in the English Dictionary

"decay" in British English

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decayverb [ I or T ]

uk /dɪˈkeɪ/ us /dɪˈkeɪ/

B2 to (cause something to) become gradually damaged, worse, or less:

Sugar makes your teeth decay.
The role of the extended family has been decaying for some time.
Pollution has decayed the surface of the stonework on the front of the cathedral.
the smell of decaying meat

More examples

  • Floating in the dirty river were dead fish, already starting to decay.
  • The bacteria live on food particles and produce acid that decays the enamel on your teeth.
  • The flesh on a dead body decays very rapidly.
  • It's sad to watch a beautiful rose wither and decay in such a short time.
  • Plants and animals decay into the soil, replenishing the minerals and nutrients.

decaynoun [ U ]

uk /dɪˈkeɪ/ us /dɪˈkeɪ/

C2 the process of decaying:

dental/tooth decay
The buildings had started to fall into decay.
This industry has been in decay for some time.

More examples

  • Many children come to us with severe dental decay.
  • Unemployment and inner city decay are inseparable issues which must be tackled together.
  • Sugar is a major cause of tooth decay.
  • The mansion had an atmosphere of genteel elegance and decay.
  • Areas of the most serious urban decay are to receive funds for new building and redevelopment schemes.

(Definition of “decay” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"decay" in American English

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decaynoun [ U ]

us /dɪˈkeɪ/

damage, or a state that becomes gradually worse:

The dentist says I have a lot of tooth decay.
There’s still too much crime, poverty, and decay in the neighborhood.
Your attitude just contributes to the growing social decay.

decay noun [ U ] (PROCESS)

physics /dɪˈkeɪ/ the process by which a radioactive substance breaks down and sends out harmful radiation

verb [ I/T ] us /dɪˈkeɪ/
adjective [ not gradable ] us /dɪˈkeɪ·ɪŋ/

Empty lots stand next to abandoned, decaying buildings.

(Definition of “decay” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)