17

What are the proper ways to say that something gets smaller (decreases in size) in one word?

I am not asking about cases when what we discribe represents a measure of something (price, volume, weight, height). In those cases I know that it is correct to say, for example

  • The price decreases
  • The volume reduces

I am asking about cases when real material things get smaller.

For example,

  • A baloon gets smaller (deflates)
  • An apple gets smaller (when somebody eats it)

The goal is to replace 'gets smaller' with one word (verb).

Can I in these cases use words such as 'decrease', 'reduce' without adding 'in size'?

What are the most commonly used words or phrases?

  • 3
    Why do you need this? "Gets smaller" seems to be the meaning you want. – James K Feb 10 at 15:42
  • the problem is in your two examples, they have implied semantics quantities of measure price measured in some currency, volume measured in decibels. In balloon and apple there is no implied quantity of measurement. Size is needed to specify the quantity that is changing. – user5699 Feb 14 at 3:29

10 Answers 10

87

I think you may be looking for the verb "to shrink".

The balloon shrinks/shrank/will shrink/has shrunk/is shrinking etc.

I wouldn't use that about something that's actually having bits taken out of it, though, because it tends to suggest getting smaller while retaining largely the same shape - or at least changing shape in some smooth, continuous way.

Reduce can be used without 'in size' for some things, and would often be used as such as about prices. Also about swellings, thrombosed haematomas, and various other things.

48

In addition to shrink and contract mentioned above, other words that can mean "shrink" plus some additional information or context are:

  • shrivel - shrinking by losing something (like water)
  • wilt - similar to shrivel
  • collapse - shrinking by losing its structure
  • deflate - shrinking by losing its content
  • implode - similar to deflate but more dramatic
  • retreat - like shrink, but focuses on the space where it is not anymore
  • recede - similar to retreat
  • wane - similar to shrink
  • 1
    I typically think of "waning" as getting smaller from one side like the way the moon gets smaller. Not sure if that's just me, though. – Daniel Feb 11 at 16:10
  • 1
    @Daniel interesting. I do not think of it that way, but then I don't use the word much. – Owen Feb 11 at 16:25
  • 1
    Decimate or decline is another. Although it has its problems: merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/… – Rubenisme Feb 11 at 18:04
  • 2
    @Daniel Just you I think. For example, the number of sunlight hours in a day waxes and wanes throughout the year. Or, the number of students failing Art Appreciation 101 waxes and wanes each semester. Anything that periodically increases and decreases (in number, size, intensity, etc.) can be said to wax and wane. I would only use waning to describe a shrinking balloon if I were trying to emphasize the "cycle" aspect of a balloon's inflated life. It waxes to inflated size as the balloon is filled, and then wanes as the air escapes (unless the air escapes all at once, then the balloon popped) – geneSummons Feb 11 at 22:52
  • 7
    Wane is more related to strength, or intensity. Something that is waning is becoming weaker. And this interpretation can apply to the moon as well, which becomes less bright as it gets smaller. – bornfromanegg Feb 12 at 14:38
27

There's also diminish:

to make/become smaller; to lessen the authority or dignity of; to disappear gradually.

  • 2
    It feels more appropriate to use with the figurative meaning of getting smaller, though (you could say that a country's power has gradually diminished throughout its history, but saying that an apple diminished sounds awkward) – crizzis Feb 11 at 20:00
  • @crizzis, I do have the same impression, thanks for verifying it. I'm not a native English speaker, though, and wasn't sure enough about that to make the point. – ilkkachu Feb 11 at 21:31
  • 2
    @crizzis I don't see that discussing power is figurative (as opposed to abstract). But it's fairly common to use diminish in regard to real, measurable quantities, such as the cliche 'the law of diminishing returns', or 'the light output of a LED diminishes over time'. – Pete Kirkham Feb 12 at 14:21
  • @PeteKirkham To my mind, the literal meaning of getting smaller is decreasing in physical size/dimensions and that's what I meant (I believe that's also the meaning the OP asked for). Sorry for being imprecise. – crizzis Feb 12 at 14:33
  • 1
    A single item can't be said to diminish but an amount can. You wouldn't say "the peach diminished" but you can say "the amount of peach remaining diminished every day". Also I disagree that dimish is used primarily for binary states although, like 'reduced' it clearly can be. The amount of interest I pay on my mortgage dimishes every year, the amount of magic beans in my bag dimishes each day, as the expedition dragged on the food supplies dimished at an alarming rate etc. – Eric Nolan Feb 14 at 17:19
16

The word "shrink" would fit most of the situations you ask about.

A balloon shrinks as it deflates

An apple shrinks as it is eaten (slightly odd but okay)

The price shrinks in a sale

My jumper shrank in the wash.

and so on.

  • 3
    ninja'd by 10 seconds. – James K Feb 10 at 15:46
  • 1
    that is so descriptive, magic :) – Solar Mike Feb 10 at 19:32
  • 2
    shrink,shrank, shrunk in AmE. I seem to remember that this verb in the UK is shrink, shrunk, shrunk...right? – Lambie Feb 10 at 20:49
  • 4
    normally "shrink-shrank-shrunk" in BrE. But the more I look at it, the stranger it looks, so I think I'd better stop – James K Feb 10 at 21:09
  • 6
    Despite "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" the past tense really is "shrank" in BrE (and AmE, AFAIK). – Rosie F Feb 10 at 21:14
7

If I were to choose a verb to satisfy your needs I would certainly say to shrink. Yet, the verb to contract can be used as a synonym in some situations. According to The Free Dictionary, definition#2:

  1. To become reduced in size by or as if by being drawn together: The pupils of the patient's eyes contracted.
  • This one works very well in certain contexts, such as when we explain how some materials will contract in the cold and expand in the heat. – J.R. Feb 11 at 20:28
  • @J.R., yes, that's what I had in mind when I proposed this word. In my language, it is used mostly in formal writing, specifically in techniques, but it is also present colloquially. Intriguingly, for its opposite English has two forms dilate and dilatate. – Lucian Sava Feb 12 at 7:57
6

An old word is

wane

which these days is only applied to the cycles of the moon (specifically waxing and waning), or metaphorically to something which changes size over time in a similar way to the moon.

  • 3
    I wouldn't say only the moon. It's also often used to refer to power and influence - e.g. "The Such-and-such Party's power has been waning in the last decades", or "The influence of the Some-Movement has been waning in the art community", that sort of thing. These are things that are diminishing and not necessarily expected to come back, unlike the moon. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 11 at 14:25
  • 2
    The OED says wane only applies to the moon and to abstract ideas, rather than to any other physical objects – Charlie Harding Feb 11 at 16:30
  • @DarrelHoffman It doesn't have to be expected to come back - it just has to change size slowly over time in the same way as the moon does. And in practise, those kind of factors are things which could well come back. – Graham Feb 11 at 16:59
  • @CharlieHarding Which is why my answer says it can be applied "metaphorically to something which changes size over time in a similar way to the moon." – Graham Feb 11 at 17:05
  • @Charlie Harding: If the OED says that, it is wrong. Wane is commonly used (at least by people with reasonable vocabularies) to refer to other things, A search for "waning -moon" turns up 20+ million hits. – jamesqf Feb 11 at 18:25
5

Another word I see in the academic and statistics literature is the word attenuate. For example

The estimated association between the drug treatment and the disease condition was attenuated after controlling for age.

That is, the magnitude of the association became smaller.

  • 2
    That's also used in engineering when talking about signal strength, because it uses the same kinds of techniques. – Graham Feb 11 at 7:53
4

Depending on the target of the sentence, "drop" can also be used; for example

"The price is dropping"

"The size of the apples have dropped"

One however would not say

"The apples have dropped"

Since the size of the apples is not the target, but the apple. Note how the price example does not need any mention of "size"; (which is why I mention it) though I'm really not sure why and will update this answer if someone can explain in the comments.

2

To discount is to reduce the price.
To diminish is to shrink in size or importance.

0

An apple gets smaller (when somebody eats it)

To be eaten and to become smaller, for a discrete object like an apple, or not the same thing at all. You can say (these are not common, but they are grammatical)

  • the amount of edible apple shrank
  • little apple was remaining

In these cases we focus on "apple" as a foodstuff, by adding "edible" in the first case and "little" in the second.

If you say "the apple shrank," I definitely picture an uneaten apple, and I may infer it shrank because it shriveled or dried up since this is the most natural way an apple may shrink, but I do not believe it was partly eaten.

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