b. One that has been extensively damaged or harmed: He is a ruin of his former self.

I came across this sentence under the definition of the word 'ruin' in the free dictionary. I don't quite understand what it means. Does it mean: he has been ruined once before or something?

  • 1
    Ancient buildings ravaged by time, some of the walls tumbled down, etc, are called ruins. So he's but the crumbling remains of his former self. A building that has been destroyed by fire or bombing or natural disaster is said to be in ruins. When we visited, most of the village was in ruins.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 14:23
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo I know what the word ruin means, but unsure the phrase "a ruin of his former self".
    – dan
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 14:26
  • It is simply a metaphorical|figurative use. He is being likened to such a building.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 14:27
  • A 'wreck' can convey a similar meaning. Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 14:50

2 Answers 2


Other ways to say this are

He is a broken man.

He is a shadow of his former self.

The Oxford Dictionary has this example

He died a broken man and was buried only a couple of miles away from his birthplace.

The words "ruin" and "broken" are figurative (although "ruined" and "broke" could mean financially). There is also the similar figurative phrase

She died from a broken heart.


The cliché expression is: a shadow of [his, her, your] former self.

It's in the dictionary: Cambridge Dictionary definition

  • He is a shadow of his self. [not like he was at all before, either mentally or physically. Completely different]

By substituting ruin for shadow, a literary cliché is avoided.

The idea is that now the person is a ruin (something spoiled as in an old house) compared to the way they were before.

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