en·​cum·​ber | \in-ˈkəm-bər \
encumbered; encumbering\ in-​ˈkəm-​b(ə-​)riŋ \

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

Hensley ran off at record-breaking speed for a man encumbered with a large bellows instrument. Andrew Hamlin, sandiegouniontribune.com, "San Diego's Matt Hensley on the accordion and how he ended up with Flogging Molly," 8 Mar. 2018 Furthermore, its leaders are less encumbered by particular constituents who may be harmed by a trade tit-for-tat, whereas Trump is already being subjected to criticisms from industry and voters. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Why Trump Might Lose His Trade War With China," 9 July 2018 That said, people should be extremely careful about encumbering their homes in retirement. Liz Weston, latimes.com, "One spouse's debts might haunt the other after death," 8 July 2018 Altuve saw one pitch to produce a second, blistering a two-seam fastball back toward Hammel for a two-run single to lift the angst encumbering the Astros lineup. Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, "Yuli Gurriel's grand slam fuels Astros' rout of Royals," 24 June 2018 Those schemes were invented in the 1970s and quickly became encumbered by patents, limiting their use during the early years. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Inventor says Google is patenting work he put in the public domain," 10 June 2018 Still, in scene after scene, their exchanges are encumbered by complex music roiling in the orchestra. New York Times, "Review: ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ the Opera, Falls Short of Its Potential," 1 June 2018 Logano won at Richmond Raceway last spring, but that win was ruled encumbered by NASCAR because of violations, and Logano’s automatic entry into the playoffs disappeared. Mike Hembree, USA TODAY, "Joey Logano: 22 car is fast, but needs to be championship-caliber fast," 4 May 2018 Washington's prodigious celebrity sometimes encumbers him onstage. Charles Mcnulty, latimes.com, "A revelatory Denzel Washington in 'The Iceman Cometh'," 10 May 2018

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

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

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More Definitions for encumber



English Language Learners Definition of encumber

: 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 \
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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Comments on encumber

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


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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