verb en·cum·ber \ in-ˈkəm-bər \
|Updated on: 15 Jul 2018

Definition of encumber

encumbered; encumbering play \in-ˈkəm-b(ə-)riŋ\
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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Examples of encumber in a Sentence

  1. These rules will only encumber the people we're trying to help.

  2. Lack of funding has encumbered the project.

Recent Examples of encumber from the Web

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.

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."

Origin and Etymology of encumber

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

ENCUMBER Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of encumber for English Language Learners

  • : to make (someone or something) hold or carry something heavy

  • : to cause problems or difficulties for (someone or something)

ENCUMBER Defined for Kids


verb en·cum·ber \ in-ˈkəm-bər \

Definition of encumber for Students

encumbered; encumbering
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.

Law Dictionary


transitive verb en·cum·ber
variants: also incumber \in-ˈkəm-bər\

legal Definition of encumber

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

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