embarrass

verb
em·​bar·​rass | \ im-ˈber-əs How to pronounce embarrass (audio) , -ˈba-rəs \
embarrassed; embarrassing; embarrasses

Definition of embarrass

transitive verb

1a : to cause to experience a state of self-conscious distress bawdy stories embarrassed him
b : to place in doubt, perplexity, or difficulties
c : to involve in financial difficulties
2a : to hamper the movement of
3 : to make intricate : complicate
4 : to impair the activity of (a bodily function) or the function of (a bodily part) digestion embarrassed by overeating

intransitive verb

: to become anxiously self-conscious he embarrasses easily

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Other Words from embarrass

embarrassable \ im-​ˈber-​ə-​sə-​bəl How to pronounce embarrassable (audio) , -​ˈba-​rə-​ \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for embarrass

embarrass, discomfit, abash, disconcert, rattle mean to distress by confusing or confounding. embarrass implies some influence that impedes thought, speech, or action. the question embarrassed her so much she couldn't answer discomfit implies a hampering or frustrating accompanied by confusion. hecklers discomfited the speaker abash presupposes some initial self-confidence that receives a sudden check, producing shyness, shame, or a feeling of inferiority. abashed by her swift and cutting retort disconcert implies an upsetting of equanimity or assurance producing uncertainty or hesitancy. disconcerted by finding so many in attendance rattle implies an agitation that impairs thought and judgment. rattled by all the television cameras

Embarrass: Its Spelling and Use

Are you here because you spelled embarrass wrong? Don't be embarrassed.

Instead, remember that the word embarrass got those embarrassing r's and s's from the French: English embarrass comes from the French word embarrasser.

When used as an active verb, embarrass is most often seen in constructions like "x embarrasses/embarrassed me/them." The word is also very commonly used as a passive verb. In such cases, the preposition by is a frequent companion:

Private companies were embarrassed by being shown to co-operate with the American authorities.
The Economist, 12 Nov. 2016

Teenagers are always easily embarrassed by their parents.
— Farley Granger, Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway, 2007

In that moment, I know I have begun to assign the termites the powers of volition and desire, the experiences of pain and regret. I am embarrassed by this, and dare not mention it to the scientists.
— Duncan Murrell, Harper's, August 2005

People are also regularly embarrassed about something:

His attorney said he was embarrassed about the incident and didn't want anybody to notice him.
— Richard Martin, The Atlantic Monthly, June 2001

Fiction has no reason to be embarrassed about telling the same story again and again, since we all, with infinite variations, live the same story.
— John Simon, The New Republic, 21 Nov. 1983

Sometimes they're embarrassed (or not) on someone's behalf—that is, they're embarrassed for someone:

Nobody ever felt embarrassed for Yoko Ono.
— Bruno Maddox, Spy, November 1996

They're less commonly embarrassed at something:

She would be deeply embarrassed at my admiration, more so at my naming her in print.
— Nancy Harmon Jenkins, The New York Times Magazine, 4 May 1986

His cogent reasoning made me embarrassed at my own first reaction….
—David Greenberg, The New Republic, 14 Nov. 1994

Occasionally, and by some measures increasingly, people are embarrassed of something, as in "They're embarrassed of the way it happened." This use is not yet common in published, edited text and is considered by some to be a mistake.

Did You Know?

If you've ever been so embarrassed that you felt like you were caught up in a noose of shame you may have some insight into the origins of the word embarrass. The word can be traced back through French and Spanish to the Portuguese word embaraçar, which was itself probably formed as a combination of the prefix em- (from Latin in-) and "baraça," the Portuguese word for "noose." Though "embarrass" has had various meanings throughout its history in English, these days it most often implies making someone feel or look foolish.

Examples of embarrass in a Sentence

Unexpected laughter embarrassed the speaker. She's worried about embarrassing herself in front of such a large audience. I would never do anything to embarrass my family. The protest was staged as a deliberate attempt to embarrass the government.
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Recent Examples on the Web Even last year, when things weren’t great under Joe Moorhead, the Bulldogs managed to make their 10th straight bowl game and generally not embarrass themselves. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Michigan loss to Michigan State is worst and most surprising of Jim Harbaugh era," 1 Nov. 2020 Weidner felt the meeting was meant to embarrass her, damage her campaign, and scare other aldermen into communicating less with constituents. Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "New judge, same ruling: Racine city PowerPoint about former alderman remains secret," 26 Oct. 2020 As with the first film, some real-life people embarrass themselves. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, "No, 'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm' isn't as funny as the original. This is why it can't be," 21 Oct. 2020 By then, though, Ford was so accomplished that umpires refused to embarrass him. Tyler Kepner, New York Times, "In a Golden Era for the Yankees, the Mound Belonged to Whitey Ford," 9 Oct. 2020 Democratic countries do continue to use the UN and the international human-rights apparatus to embarrass the Iranians, the Venezuelans, and indeed the Chinese. Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic, "The U.S. Used to Write the Rules—Now China Does," 8 Oct. 2020 Such applications of ambiguous irony allow President Trump to embarrass conventional media in ways that exhilarate his supporters. Dan Brooks, New York Times, "How President Trump Ruined Political Comedy," 7 Oct. 2020 But before even making the potential game-sealing play, Blackmon’s presence all over the field helped the Colts embarrass a Bears team that scored 30 points last week after a quarterback change that provided some brief offensive stability. Michael Mccleary, The Indianapolis Star, "Colts 'excited' about Julian Blackmon after breakout game vs. Bears," 5 Oct. 2020 That’s a level of kicking futility that would embarrass even Alabama. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Tulane's loss to Navy could sting for a long time, putting it atop Misery Index," 21 Sep. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'embarrass.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of embarrass

1578, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 2a

History and Etymology for embarrass

French embarrasser, from Spanish embarazar, from Portuguese embaraçar, from em- (from Latin in-) + baraça noose

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Time Traveler for embarrass

Time Traveler

The first known use of embarrass was in 1578

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Statistics for embarrass

Last Updated

16 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Embarrass.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/embarrass. Accessed 25 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for embarrass

embarrass

verb
How to pronounce embarrass (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of embarrass

: to make (someone) feel confused and foolish in front of other people
: to make (a person, group, government, etc.) look foolish in public

embarrass

verb
em·​bar·​rass | \ im-ˈber-əs How to pronounce embarrass (audio) \
embarrassed; embarrassing

Kids Definition of embarrass

: to cause to feel confused and foolish in front of other people Having to dismount to turn the bicycle around was embarrassing— Beverly Cleary, Ramona Quimby

embarrass

transitive verb
em·​bar·​rass | \ im-ˈbar-əs How to pronounce embarrass (audio) \

Medical Definition of embarrass

: to impair the activity of (a bodily function) or the function of (a bodily part) digestion embarrassed by overeating

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Comments on embarrass

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