em·​bar·​rass | \im-ˈber-əs, -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

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

intransitive verb

: to become anxiously self-conscious he embarrasses easily

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Other Words from embarrass

embarrassable \ im-​ˈber-​ə-​sə-​bəl , -​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

Gary is also accused of trying to embarrass cheerleaders through physical assaults, such as duct-taping a cheerleader in the stomach and on the sides. Michael Mccann, SI.com, "NFL Teams Previously Have Settled in Cheerleader Lawsuits. Will Texans' Ex-Cheerleaders Set Different Precedent?," 25 June 2018 Are there any parts of the show that will embarrass them terribly? Aidin Vaziri, SFChronicle.com, "Alan Cumming on embracing cabaret and finding humor in the immigrant struggle," 5 July 2018 All in all, Trump had reason to celebrate Tuesday night as all three of his endorsed candidates survived primary challenges that could have embarrassed him and the party. Steve Peoples, Time, "Primaries Expose Division Among Democrats, While Republicans Unite Behind President Trump's Picks," 27 June 2018 But the resurgent Rams reclaimed the NFC West crown last year, essentially dealing the Seahawks a mortal blow by embarrassing them 42-7 — in Seattle no less — in Week 15. Nate Davis, USA TODAY, "Seahawks training camp questions: Will Russell Wilson finally have help?," 19 June 2018 Keke Palmer is done being embarrassed by her natural hair. Zoë Weiner, Teen Vogue, "Keke Palmer Has a Powerful Message about Embracing Natural Hair," 29 June 2018 Losing to a legend such as Dixon is hardly something to be embarrassed by, but there's no doubt Penske will be looking to avenge last year's defeat. Jim Ayello, Indianapolis Star, "Penske poised to avenge last season's disappointment at Road America," 22 June 2018 Either way, getting embarrassed by parents and grandparents is more or less an inevitability of growing up. refinery29.com, "North West’s Weird Grandma Kris Jenner Is Embarrassing Her At School," 2 June 2018 Common arguments in this area are that the registration requirements are embarrassing, invasive and burdensome. Rebecca Boone, idahostatesman, "Sex offenders say Idaho law hurts them. Judge replies: Prove it," 29 May 2018

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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Statistics for embarrass

Last Updated

22 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for embarrass

The first known use of embarrass was in 1578

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More Definitions for embarrass



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


em·​bar·​rass | \im-ˈber-əs \
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


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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Comments on embarrass

What made you want to look up embarrass? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


playful or foolish behavior

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