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

transitive verb

: to cause to experience a state of self-conscious distress
bawdy stories embarrassed him
: to place in doubt, perplexity, or difficulties
: to involve in financial difficulties
: to hamper the movement of
: to make intricate : complicate
: 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
embarrassable adjective

Did you know?

Embarrass comes from Portuguese embaraçar, whose prefix (em-) is from Latin in- and whose base word means "noose." Although embarrass has had various meanings related to acts that hinder or impede, these days it most often implies making someone feel or look foolish.

Did you know?

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.

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

Example Sentences

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Milwaukee beat them in Game 6 to win the 2021 NBA Finals and Dallas embarrassed them in Phoenix in Game 7 of the West semifinals last year. Duane Rankin, The Arizona Republic, 9 May 2023 China’s ambassador to Paris has now embarrassed the French President by declaring that the former nations of the Soviet Union aren’t really sovereign under international law. The Editorial Board, wsj.com, 23 Apr. 2023 Jim recording Nadia undressing without her permission inadvertently leads to a viral video of him embarrassing himself while trying to hook up with her. Justin Curto, Peoplemag, 18 Apr. 2023 The discovery embarrassed law enforcement officials but did not disrupt other events on the first day of Biden’s three-day visit to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Steve Coogan, USA TODAY, 13 Apr. 2023 If Ebb, with his brasher, needier personality, would have eaten up the honor, Kander seems at best to withstand it, embarrassed by too much attention or praise. Jesse Green, New York Times, 4 Apr. 2023 The Soviet Union, despite its frequent reliance on falsehoods in other propaganda campaigns, could in this instance largely parrot domestic newspaper coverage of the incident to embarrass the U.S. Initial efforts—even those backed by the president—were predicated on persuasion, not compulsion. Francine Uenuma, Smithsonian Magazine, 24 Feb. 2023 Still, top New Hampshire Democrats have warned that another Democrat could run in an unsanctioned primary the state stages and, if Biden skips it in accordance with party rules, could win and embarrass the president — prolonging a primary process that wasn’t supposed to be competitive. Will Weissert, BostonGlobe.com, 4 Feb. 2023 It’s done to embarrass and humiliate the chief negotiators. Gene Maddaus, Variety, 27 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'embarrass.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1578, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of embarrass was in 1578


Dictionary Entries Near embarrass

Cite this Entry

“Embarrass.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/embarrass. Accessed 30 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


em·​bar·​rass im-ˈbar-əs How to pronounce embarrass (audio)
: to cause to feel self-consciously confused or distressed
unexpected laughter embarrassed the speaker
: to restrict the movement of : hinder, impede
: to involve in financial difficulties

Medical Definition


transitive verb
em·​bar·​rass im-ˈbar-əs How to pronounce embarrass (audio)
: to impair the activity of (a bodily function) or the function of (a bodily part)
digestion embarrassed by overeating

More from Merriam-Webster on embarrass

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