1. the flowing back of the tide as the water returns to the sea (opposed to flood, flow).
  2. a flowing backward or away; decline or decay: the ebb of a once great nation.
  3. a point of decline: His fortunes were at a low ebb.

verb (used without object)

  1. to flow back or away, as the water of a tide (opposed to flow).
  2. to decline or decay; fade away: His life is gradually ebbing.

verb (intr)

  1. (of tide water) to flow back or recedeCompare flow (def. 9)
  2. to fall away or decline


    1. the flowing back of the tide from high to low water or the period in which this takes place
    2. (as modifier)the ebb tide Compare flood (def. 3)
  1. at a low ebb in a state or period of weakness, lack of vigour, or decline

Old English ebba “ebb, low tide,” perhaps from Proto-Germanic *abjon (cf. Old Frisian ebba, Old Saxon ebbiunga, Middle Dutch ebbe, Dutch eb, German Ebbe), from *ab-, from PIE root *apo- “off, away” (see apo-). Figurative sense of “decline, decay” is c.1400.


Old English ebbian, from the root of ebb (n.). Related: Ebbed; ebbing.

In addition to the idioms beginning with ebb

  • ebb and flow

also see:

  • at a low ebb

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