verb em·bar·rass \ im-ˈber-əs , -ˈba-rəs \
|Updated on: 13 Aug 2018

Definition of embarrass

embarrassed; embarrassing; embarrasses
1 a : 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
2 a : to hamper the movement of
b : hinder, impede
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
: to become anxiously self-conscious
  • he embarrasses easily


play \im-ˈber-ə-sə-bəl, -ˈba-rə-\ adjective

embarrass was our Word of the Day on 04/18/2018. Hear the podcast!

Examples of embarrass in a Sentence

  1. Unexpected laughter embarrassed the speaker.

  2. She's worried about embarrassing herself in front of such a large audience.

  3. I would never do anything to embarrass my family.

  4. The protest was staged as a deliberate attempt to embarrass the government.

Recent Examples of embarrass from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of embarrass

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

Synonym Discussion of 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 Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of embarrass for English Language Learners

  • : to make (someone) feel confused and foolish in front of other people

  • : to make (a person, group, government, etc.) look foolish in public

EMBARRASS Defined for Kids


verb em·bar·rass \ im-ˈber-əs \

Definition of embarrass for Students

embarrassed; embarrassing
: 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

Medical Dictionary


transitive verb em·bar·rass \ im-ˈbar-əs \

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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fullness to the point of excess

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