from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To return to a former state.
  • intransitive verb To become sicker after partial recovery from an illness.
  • intransitive verb To recur. Used of an illness.
  • intransitive verb To slip back into bad ways; backslide.
  • noun A return to a former state, especially after apparent improvement.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To slip or slide back; return.
  • To fall back; return to a former bad state or practice; backslide: as, to relapse into vice or error after amendment.
  • To fall back from recovery or a convalescent state.
  • noun A sliding or falling back, particularly into a former evil state.
  • noun One who has refallen into vice or error; specifically, one who returns into error after having recanted it.
  • noun In medicine, the return of a disease or symptom during or directly after convalescence. See recrudescence.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A sliding or falling back, especially into a former bad state, either of body or morals; backsliding; the state of having fallen back.
  • noun obsolete One who has relapsed, or fallen back, into error; a backslider; specifically, one who, after recanting error, returns to it again.
  • intransitive verb obsolete To slip or slide back, in a literal sense; to turn back.
  • intransitive verb To slide or turn back into a former state or practice; to fall back from some condition attained; -- generally in a bad sense, as from a state of convalescence or amended condition; ; -- sometimes in a good sense.
  • intransitive verb (Theol.) To fall from Christian faith into paganism, heresy, or unbelief; to backslide.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb intransitive To fall back again.
  • verb intransitive, medicine, of a disease To recur; to worsen, be aggravated.
  • noun The act or situation of relapsing.
  • noun obsolete One who has relapsed, or fallen back into error; a backslider.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb deteriorate in health
  • noun a failure to maintain a higher state
  • verb go back to bad behavior


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English relapsen, to forswear, from Latin relābī, relāps-, to fall back gradually : re-, re- + lābī, to slide.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Latin relapsus, past participle of relabi ("to slide back, fall back"), from re- ("back") + labi ("to slip, slide, fall").


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word relapse.


  • There was no looking at watches, no stifled yawning, no uneasy change of position, no watching the clock; strangers visiting the chapel listened, at first, from real interest, with a feeling that by-and-by they would relapse into their usual listlessness, but before they had time to _relapse_, behold the sermon was done.

    The Old Stone House

  • And that's the area that I'm working with now, with the offenders I'm in contact with, giving them a motive that will last, as to why they should to ahead and stay in what we call relapse prevention.

    CNN Transcript Sep 4, 2009

  • Oh, this relapse is a severe disappointment to me, and, God knows, not altogether a selfish disappointment!

    Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle

  • Harmon emphasized her heroin use, which she characterized as a relapse that began about a month before Gouge's death that included up to six bags a day.


  • It might be possible to decide soon whether a criminal has reformed or the risk of his relapse is too high with the help of brain imaging, which scientists say can be used in the justice system.

    Brain Scan Can Catch Liars in the Act | Impact Lab

  • Genetics plays role in relapse of illicit drug-seeking behavior

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  • However, this response is temporary, and when you stop taking these medicines, you will soon relapse in other words, your liver enzyme levels will become abnormal again and your HCV-RNA-PCR test will become positive.


  • If an officer of the Reserve Corps who has been retired pursuant to these regulations and whose retired pay has been terminated on account of his recovery shall again become totally disabled and if his relapse is not due to any new intervening cause, he shall again become entitled to retired pay.


  • What a relapse from the time when we in this world experienced the presence of Jesus Christ among us!

    Nathan Söderblom - Nobel Lecture

  • He did not again relapse into his former stupor, but it was very long before he regained his usual cheerfulness.

    Zoe: The History of Two Lives


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