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

verb (used without object)

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

Origin of ebb

before 1000; (noun) Middle English eb(be), Old English ebba; cognate with Old Frisian ebba, Dutch eb(be), German Ebbe ebb, Old Norse efja place where water backs up; (v.) Middle English ebben, Old English ebbian, derivative of the noun; akin to off
Related formsun·ebbed, adjectiveun·ebb·ing, adjective

Synonyms for ebb

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for ebb

Contemporary Examples of ebb

Historical Examples of ebb

  • He acquired a general knowledge of the ebb and flow of popular stocks.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • And with those words his charity towards Spurling began to ebb.

    Murder Point

    Coningsby Dawson

  • And again and again fell the word, like the ebb of a dying sea.

    Howards End

    E. M. Forster

  • On the ebb it'll snake you out into the breakers sure as I'm settin' here tellin' you.

    The Woman-Haters

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • It was like the ebb of a broken wave to those who had heard the sea.

British Dictionary definitions for ebb


verb (intr)

(of tide water) to flow back or recedeCompare flow (def. 9)
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)
at a low ebb in a state or period of weakness, lack of vigour, or decline

Word Origin for ebb

Old English ebba; related to Old Norse efja river bend, Gothic ibuks moving backwards, Old High German ippihōn to roll backwards, Middle Dutch ebbe ebb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for ebb

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with ebb


In addition to the idioms beginning with ebb

  • ebb and flow

also see:

  • at a low ebb
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.