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

This redevelopment is typically more expensive, encumbered by environmental and zoning restrictions and slower to come to market. Louis Hansen, The Mercury News, "Endangered Bay Area species: the new home," 1 Sep. 2019 Share a tin of pimento cheese (sadly encumbered by strips of pickled onions — just let us at the cheese, please!) with saltines ($8) or fluffy biscuits and Benton ham, with a swipe of sorghum butter on the side, worth eating on its own ($16). Kara Baskin, BostonGlobe.com, "At The Porch in Medford, deviled eggs, fried chicken, pork rinds, and other Southern flavors," 7 Aug. 2019 The surest way to make that happen is to recapitalize the company with new money rather than encumbering it with more obligations. Washington Post, "PG&E Needs New Money, Not New Obligations," 27 June 2019 What can be derived from all this is that almost none of what made Joe Biden attractive to Barack Obama as a vice president in 2008 is likely to prove helpful to the candidate in 2020, and that much of it is likely to prove encumbering to him. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, "Joe Biden, Designated White Guy," 13 Aug. 2019 Vasco were well encumbered in the middle of the park during the infancy of Luiz's career, owing to the fact that Brazilian youth internationals Evander, Andrey and Mateus Vital, all played in that position. SI.com, "Douglas Luiz: 6 Things to Know About the Manchester City Star Linked With Aston Villa," 12 July 2019 Those who do handle radioactive material must first don protective suits that are inherently cumbersome and are further encumbered by the air hoses needed to allow the wearer to breathe. The Economist, "Cleaning up nuclear waste is an obvious task for robots," 20 June 2019 But governments and large aerospace companies, encumbered by lengthy planning processes, have been slower to pivot away from a focus on measuring methane emissions on a regional and global scale. Jeremy Hsu, Scientific American, "Private Space Race Targets Greenhouse Gas Emitters," 31 July 2019 It’s hard to see why the court would favor a scheme encumbering PG&E’s future revenues in order to protect existing shareholders over a plan that simply injects $18 billion of new equity. Washington Post, "PG&E Needs New Money, Not New Obligations," 27 June 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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Last Updated

23 Sep 2019

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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

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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More from Merriam-Webster on encumber

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with encumber

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for encumber

Spanish Central: Translation of encumber

Nglish: Translation of encumber for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of encumber for Arabic Speakers

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