[verb ri-laps; noun ri-laps, ree-laps]

verb (used without object), re·lapsed, re·laps·ing.

to fall or slip back into a former state, practice, etc.: to relapse into silence.
to fall back into illness after convalescence or apparent recovery.
to fall back into vice, wrongdoing, or error; backslide: to relapse into heresy.


an act or instance of relapsing.
a return of a disease or illness after partial recovery from it.

Origin of relapse

1400–50; (v.) late Middle English < Latin relāpsus, past participle of relābī to slide back, revert (re- re- + lāb- v. stem + -sus for -tus past participle suffix); (noun) late Middle English < Medieval Latin relāpsus, equivalent to Latin relāb(ī) + -sus for -tus suffix of v. action
Related formsre·laps·a·ble, adjectivere·laps·er, nounun·re·laps·ing, adjective

Synonyms for relapse Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for relapse

Contemporary Examples of relapse

Historical Examples of relapse

  • I had sent for Doctor Norrey, as soon as the relapse came, and he was there with me.

    Questionable Shapes

    William Dean Howells

  • And when the relapse fell on him, was he in most respects—or in all respects—as he was then?

    A Tale of Two Cities

    Charles Dickens

  • I, who whip round corners and bluster, relapse and evade, then rally and pursue!

    The Golden Age

    Kenneth Grahame

  • There was a temporary rally, followed by a relapse, at Alexandria.

    The Last Voyage

    Lady (Annie Allnutt) Brassey

  • But the notes that called me home were too clarion-like for a relapse into puppyism.

British Dictionary definitions for relapse


verb (rɪˈlæps) (intr)

to lapse back into a former state or condition, esp one involving bad habits
to become ill again after apparent recovery

noun (rɪˈlæps, ˈriːˌlæps)

the act or an instance of relapsing
the return of ill health after an apparent or partial recovery
Derived Formsrelapser, noun

Word Origin for relapse

C16: from Latin relabī to slip back, from re- + labī to slip, slide
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 relapse

early 15c., "renounce;" 1560s, "fall into a former state," from Latin relapsus, past participle of relabi "slip back, slide back, sink back," from re- "back" (see re-) + labi "to slip" (see lapse (n.)). Related: Relapsed; relapsing.


mid-15c., from relapse (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

relapse in Medicine




To regress after partial recovery from illness.
To slip back into bad ways; backslide.
To fall or slide back into a former state.


A falling back into a former state, especially the return of symptoms following an apparent recovery.recurrence
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.