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 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can find out how to register to vote, where to cast ballots and who won the election, had security issues such as outdated software, poor encryption and systems encumbered with unneeded computer programs.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 Many of those districts have abused taxing and bonding authority, maximizing the developer’s return on investment and encumbering future homeowners with millions in undisclosed debt. The Denver Post Editorial Board, The Denver Post, "Editorial: Disclose metropolitan district tax rates on real estate listings," 20 Dec. 2019 Brass was required of Nora, and Ms. Dern delivered it in dazzling measure, with no encumbering nuance. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, "Oscar Picks From the Journal’s Joe Morgenstern," 5 Feb. 2020 In individual sports, you are not encumbered that way. Jon Wertheim, SI.com, "Mailbag: How Much Should We Care About the Laver Cup?," 18 Sep. 2019

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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Cite this Entry

“Encumber.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/encumber. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for encumber


How to pronounce encumber (audio)

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.
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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