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

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. 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 The goal would be to reduce recidivism, provide workforce development and not encumber first-time offenders with a conviction on their records. Thomas Jewell, cleveland, 26 Oct. 2021 The hope is that the testbed will remove much of the red tape that might otherwise encumber partnering with the government. Adi Gaskell, Forbes, 4 Oct. 2021 In other words, unused oil and gas leases encumber 1.7 federal million acres in Utah, some of them within sight of national parks and monuments. Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune, 4 Aug. 2021 Mitchell’s own first publication at the company, on making smile-detection algorithms perform well for people of different races and genders, also met with a degree of corporate hesitancy that didn’t seem to encumber more conventional AI projects. Tom Simonite, Wired, 8 June 2021 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, 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, 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, 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, 15 Sep. 2020 See More

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.

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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Cite this Entry

“Encumber.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/encumber. Accessed 19 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for encumber


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

More from Merriam-Webster on encumber

Nglish: Translation of encumber for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of encumber for Arabic Speakers


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