en·​cum·​ber | \ in-ˈkəm-bər How to pronounce encumber (audio) \
encumbered; encumbering\ in-​ˈkəm-​b(ə-​)riŋ How to pronounce encumber (audio) \

Definition of encumber

transitive verb

1 : weigh down, burden tourists encumbered by heavy luggage
2 : to impede or hamper the function or activity of : hinder negotiations encumbered by a lack of trust
3 : to burden with a legal claim (such as a mortgage) encumber an estate

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Encumber Has French Roots

In Old French, the noun "combre" meant a defensive obstacle formed by felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy. Later, in Middle French, "combre" referred to a barrier, similar to a dam or weir, constructed in the bed of a river to hold back fish or protect the banks. That notion of holding back is what informs our verb "encumber," formed by combining en- and combre. One can be physically encumbered (as by a heavy load or severe weather), or figuratively (as by bureaucratic restrictions). "Combre" also gives us the adjectives "cumbersome" and "cumbrous," both meaning "awkward or difficult to handle."

Examples of encumber in a Sentence

These rules will only encumber the people we're trying to help. Lack of funding has encumbered the project.
Recent Examples on the Web At that time, Roach said that of the $18.7 million in FEMA funds, $13.6 million had been spent or encumbered, leaving $5.1 million to encumber over the next few weeks. Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press, "FEMA: Detroit has until Aug. 2 to use rest of $18.7 million grant for COVID-19 vaccines," 5 May 2021 Roach said of the $18.7 million in FEMA funds, $13.6 million has been spent or encumbered as of Friday, leaving $5.1 million to encumber over the next few weeks. Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit has $18.7M FEMA grant for COVID-19 vaccines. Will money be spent by May deadline?," 17 Apr. 2021 Suburban voters are convinced that taxes will cost them money, no matter where the hammer drops, and are perplexed that the White House would encumber an economy recovering from the coronavirus. David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, "'Downright radical': GOP says Biden tax hikes driving wedge between Democrats and suburban voters," 12 Apr. 2021 Backlogs have caused unbearably long wait times for results, and the coming flu season might further encumber test processing. Keith Gillogly, Wired, "Could Breathalyzers Make Covid Testing Quicker and Easier?," 15 Sep. 2020 African Americans were forced to look in the private market, which was heavily segregated and often encumbered by racial covenants banning blacks. Gary Kamiya, SFChronicle.com, "Marin shipyard welcomed blacks and women in WWII, but diversity ended at the gates," 3 Apr. 2020 This type of deed does not affect the transferor’s homestead rights, their right to transfer or encumber the property, or their ad valorem tax exemptions. Wesley E. Wright, Houston Chronicle, "Elder Law: Texas Probate, although simple, some still try to avoid," 16 Apr. 2020 The sites, where people can find out how to register to vote, where to cast ballots and who won the election, had security issues such as outdated software, poor encryption and systems encumbered with unneeded computer programs. Jack Gillum, ProPublica, "Some Election-Related Websites Still Run on Vulnerable Software Older Than Many High Schoolers," 2 Mar. 2020 For now, the message is a simple one-size-fits-all approach: Whoever wins the exhausting slugfest will be so battered and encumbered by expensive, progressive policies that the candidate will make for easy prey. Rob Crilly, Washington Examiner, "Trump campaign readies for attack after Super Tuesday," 27 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'encumber.' 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 encumber

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for encumber

Middle English encombren, from Anglo-French encumbrer, from en- + Middle French combre dam, weir

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Time Traveler for encumber

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The first known use of encumber was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

10 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Encumber.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/encumber. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for encumber



English Language Learners Definition of encumber

somewhat formal
: to make (someone or something) hold or carry something heavy
: to cause problems or difficulties for (someone or something)


en·​cum·​ber | \ in-ˈkəm-bər How to pronounce encumber (audio) \
encumbered; encumbering

Kids Definition of encumber

1 : to weigh down : burden Their heavy coats encumbered the children.
2 : to cause problems or delays for : hinder Bad weather encumbered the building project.


transitive verb
variants: also incumber \ in-​ˈkəm-​bər \
encumbered; encumbering

Legal Definition of encumber

: to burden with a claim (as a mortgage or lien) encumbered the land with a mineral lease

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