Trying to find an antonym for the verb "nourish", specifically in the context of depleting nutrients. Something like "denourish".

For example:

Working all day in the hot sun had quickly denourished her.

"To starve" is close, but is more at the extreme end. "To fast" is also close, but implies intent.


I think the question itself is a bit flawed. "Nourish" is not necessarily specific to providing nutrients, so finding a direct antonym for the specific context is unlikely. As far as I know, there isn't a single word verb describing the act of providing nutrients to something.

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    What’s wrong with the word you yourself used in the first sentence: deplete? Nov 7, 2016 at 19:18
  • "Denourish" isn't technically a word, though "de-nourish" might be acceptable in this case. "Deplete" isn't specific enough, I was looking for a word that exactly contrasts the act of adding nutrients to something. Nov 7, 2016 at 19:35
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    Lexically, 'nourish' and 'feed' both are specific to providing "with food or other substances necessary for life and growth". The flaw in the question is your assumption that 'starve' and, to a lesser extent, 'famish', necessarily "imply" or connote extremity. Perhaps 'wasted' or 'reduced' would suit; 'weakened' is more direct.
    – JEL
    Nov 7, 2016 at 20:31
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    @JEL I think you're right. I looked at some more definitions of "starve" and it doesn't always imply suffering or death from malnourishment. Nov 7, 2016 at 20:36
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    To be fair, working in the hot sun all day doesn't "remove" all of someone's nutrients from their body, but merely cause someone to metabolize those stores more quickly and extensively. If this is truly an ideal example for your needs, then an appropriate answer would be along the lines of excrete.
    – talrnu
    Nov 8, 2016 at 1:56

9 Answers 9


Consider drain [MWD]

to exhaust physically or emotionally: feeling drained at the end of a long workday

You could say

Working all day in the hot sun had quickly drained her.

  • This was the word I couldn't quite put my finger on. Good. Nov 8, 2016 at 0:00

The word famish when used transitively would seem to me an exact antonym of nourish.

There is nothing in the OED which suggests it is archaic - and it would seem appropriate to use in a sentence such as -

Assad's forces had famished the region of Aleppo into near-starvation

sense 1.

  1. trans. To reduce to the extremities of famine and hunger; to starve. Also, †to famish away.

Most recent example:

a1822 Shelley Prince Athanase in Posthumous Poems (1824) 106 Those false opinions which the harsh rich use To blind the world they famish for their pride. OED.

There is, of course an intransitive form, which is in everyday used as famished - meaning, extremely hungry.

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    Famish has the same issue as starve in that they both take the concept of depleting nutrients to the extreme. Both imply death or suffering from malnourishment which isn't exactly what I was going for. Someone who is "denourished" from exercise isn't necessarily starving or famished. Nov 7, 2016 at 19:41

Well, malnourished is a word which is the antonym of nourished. To malnourish is not in the dictionary, but I bet you could get by with it in casual conversation.

You could use depleted, or in a more casual context you could also use deflated.

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    I think deplete (to un-full-make :) ) hits the spot. - plete seems to mean "make full", as with complete "make full together", so depletion as the act of undoing the fullmaking.... Nov 8, 2016 at 8:54

The original question stated that "starve" doesn't suit the criteria because it implies death or suffering from malnourishment, but this is not necessarily the case as pointed out in @JEL's comment.

Starve can also mean "to deprive of nourishment". For reference, see point 5 in wiktionary definition:



Enervate would be my pick to describe the sapping of vigour and vitality. It does not necessarily refer to the draining of nutrients.




Make (someone) feel drained of energy or vitality.

EDIT: As Talrnu suggested, sap itself is also a good alternative.

  • 3
    The verb sap is itself a good option, consider adjusting your answer to offer it as well instead of just mentioning it in passing.
    – talrnu
    Nov 8, 2016 at 1:55
  • @talrnu Thanks for the suggestion, made the minor edit.
    – Deepak
    Nov 8, 2016 at 8:04
  • To me, enervate is the best fit. +1. Nov 8, 2016 at 8:47

Exhaust is used to mean deplete of nutrients, especially when referring to soil, and happily is also a word I would expect in your example sentence.

exhaust, v.
5. To drain (a person, kingdom, etc.) of strength or resources, or (a soil) of nutritive ingredients; hence, to weary out, enfeeble extremely. ("exhaust, v." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Definition 5. Emphasis added.)

Thus in your example

Working all day in the hot sun had quickly exhausted her.

which has the benefit of both meaning what you want it to mean and being idiomatic and understandable.

(Note that while exhaust can mean use up completely it doesn't have to be that extreme, and obviously does not mean deplete to the point of death.)


If you're okay with slang, I've heard zap used this way.

"The hot sun really zapped my energy!"

It's not an answer to the question in the title, but it does answer the text of the question.


Plants poorly watered and suffering the full strength of the sun are said to wilt beneath its heat, describing the drooping of leaves as they lose the water that gives them structure. Further exposure can cause a plant to wither, shrivelling and losing color, which occurs when a plant lacks the nutrients to combat the effects of solar radiation. This lack of nutrients is due to insufficient flow of water to carry them up to the leaves from the roots, and the lack of the temperature-regulating power of water itself. It's a fitting analogy to the example in your question: a person toiling in the heat of the sun, presumably with little rest or refreshment.

If you regard water as a nutrient, then the sun does indeed cause its rapid loss through evaporation. In this particular act of removing water from a person, the sun could be described as dessicating that person. Often dessication unchecked leads to mummification, so it's a particularly impactful (and perhaps extreme) word for what might not be such a serious situation.

You can describe the conditions of hard, prolonged work under intense heat as deleterious, because they cause a person to deplete their body's stores of nutrients more quickly and, because they aren't being replenished, to a greater extent than the norm. This word suits a wide range of conditions, all of which tax the body and mind to expend more of its resources than it would under comfortable circumstances.




to make or cause to seem smaller, less, less important

Source: dictionary.com

Example use in your sentence:

Working all day in the hot sun had quickly diminished her.

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