humble

1 of 2

adjective

hum·​ble ˈhəm-bəl How to pronounce humble (audio)
 also chiefly Southern  ˈəm-
1
: not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive
2
: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission
a humble apology
3
a
: ranking low in a hierarchy or scale : insignificant, unpretentious
b
: not costly or luxurious
a humble contraption
humbleness noun
humbly adverb

humble

2 of 2

verb

hum·​ble ˈhəm-bəl How to pronounce humble (audio)
 also chiefly Southern  ˈəm-
humbled; humbling ˈhəm-b(ə-)liŋ How to pronounce humble (audio)

transitive verb

1
: to make (someone) humble (see humble entry 1) in spirit or manner
2
: to destroy the power, independence, or prestige of
humbler noun
humblingly adverb

Did you know?

Humility: Its Use and Meaning

Humility means “the state of being humble.” Both it and humble have their origin in the Latin word humilis, meaning "low."

Humble can be used to describe what is ranked low by others, as in "persons of humble origins." People also use the word of themselves and things associated with themselves; if you describe yourself as "but a humble editor" or refer to your home as your "humble abode," you are saying that neither you nor your home is very impressive.

Like this latter use of humble, the kind of lowness expressed in the word humility is typically one chosen by oneself. Here are some examples of humility in use:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
— Proverbs 11:2

A sudden humility descended upon the King. He felt, as so many men were to feel in similar circumstances in ages to come, as though he were a child looking eagerly for guidance to an all-wise master—a child, moreover, handicapped by water on the brain, feet three sizes too large for him, and hands consisting mainly of thumbs.
— P. G. Wodehouse, The Clicking of Cuthbert, 1922

Eating grits and fatback for breakfast and washing up every morning in cold water from a hydrant in the backyard helped one learn humility and humanity.
— Julius Lester, Falling Pieces of Broken Sky, 1990

I realize now that she had an awareness of the nature of the order of life, and of the necessity of living with and respecting that order. With this respect comes a necessary humility that we, with our early-21st-century chutzpah, lack at our peril.
— Bill Joy, Wired, April 2000

Who has not gazed at the night sky, mouth slightly agape? The experience is so common, its effects so uniform, that a standard vocabulary has evolved to describe it. Invariably we speak of the profound humility we feel before the enormity of the universe. We are as bits of dust in a spectacle whose scope beggars the imagination, whose secrets make a mockery of reason.
— Edwin Dobb, Harper's, February 1995

If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn't know. He listens: not only to the other bigwigs in Davos, but also to the kind of people who don't get invited, such as his customers.
The Economist, 26 Jan. 2013

For many, the lowness in both humility and humble is something worth cultivating.

Example Sentences

Adjective Humble though it may be, and about as glamorous as a galosh, it is a fish that has shaped the political and social history of Europe like no other, with the possible exception of cod. R. W. Apple, Jr., New York Times, 30 Oct. 2002 She would not come closer to me, as much as I thought she wished to, hungering not for anything like love but for plain, humble succor. Chang-rae Lee, A Gesture Life, 1999 Women are the organizing soft-centered socialists, the nice people, the sugar-and-spice lot, identifying with the poor and humble; men are snips and snails and puppy-dog tails, and rampant, selfish, greedy capitalists. Fay Weldon, Harper's, May 1998 Despite all his achievements, he has remained humble. He is very humble about his achievements. She is too humble to let praise go to her head. Please accept my humble apologies. Her humble suggestion is that we review the data more carefully. He comes from a humble background. She's not ashamed of her humble beginnings. Verb Cuba's reliance on tourism is a somewhat humbling turn for the revolution, which has long prided itself on producing topflight doctors and teachers—not concierges. Tim Padgett, Time, 22 Dec. 2003 … audiences loved to see villains punished and arrogant young men humbled, they did not want to fidget and squirm through mea culpas before the final scene. Elaine Showalter, Civilization, April/May 1999 It frightened and humbled him but also made him feel darkly charmed. Don DeLillo, Mao II, 1991 Her success has humbled her critics. Last year's champion was humbled by an unknown newcomer. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Voiced by comedian Jenny Slate, Marcel is humble, charming, and earnest. The Editors, Outside Online, 21 Dec. 2022 Joy Danielson described her husband as humble, shy, compassionate and patient. City News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune, 8 Dec. 2022 Duggan was asked to explain why he should be awarded the Heisman trophy but did not make an argument, choosing to stay humble. Dallas News, 6 Dec. 2022 Yet most of the poems are playful, humble, and human. Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker, 5 Dec. 2022 One of his friends compares his not-so-humble abode, which includes a menagerie of glass sculptures teetering precariously in the living room, to the Tate Modern. Esther Zuckerman, WSJ, 29 Nov. 2022 The problem is the refusal to do something that the smartest people always do, and that’s humble yourself when receiving new information. Damon Young, Washington Post, 29 Nov. 2022 His friends described him as humble, trustworthy, accountable, loyal, caring and fun. Emma Stein, Detroit Free Press, 27 Nov. 2022 In my not-so-humble opinion, Silva is the very definition of a Renaissance woman. Gabi Thorne, Allure, 14 Nov. 2022
Verb
But with only one life left, Puss will have to humble himself and ask for help from his former partner and nemesis. Sydney Bucksbaum, EW.com, 15 Dec. 2022 Wasserman and Levenson say this experiment should, perhaps, humble us all a bit. Carl Engelking, Discover Magazine, 18 Nov. 2015 Her skin tone impacted her acclaim, with one power player attempting to humble her ahead of a television performance. Brooklyn White, Essence, 30 Nov. 2022 But the Lakers remain a formidable team who could humble the Blazers in a hurry. oregonlive, 22 Oct. 2022 Into this question, the pair was immersed; And journeyed, by Honda, to humble Lyndhurst. Neima Jahromi, The New Yorker, 19 Sep. 2022 The first thing on that list is for the Bearcats to humble themselves, Fickell said. Keith Jenkins, The Enquirer, 7 Sep. 2022 Whether by land or by sea, there are plenty animals big enough to humble even the mightiest among us. Anna Kaufman, USA TODAY, 10 Aug. 2022 Evidently, hose-downs can humble even the biggest egos. Adam H. Graham, Robb Report, 14 Aug. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'humble.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective and Verb

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin humilis low, humble, from humus earth; akin to Greek chthōn earth, chamai on the ground

First Known Use

Adjective

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of humble was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near humble

Cite this Entry

“Humble.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humble. Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition

humble

1 of 2 adjective
hum·​ble ˈhəm-bəl How to pronounce humble (audio)
ˈəm-
humbler -b(ə-)lər How to pronounce humble (audio) ; humblest -b(ə-)ləst How to pronounce humble (audio)
1
: modest or meek in spirit or manner : not proud or bold
humble apology
2
: low in rank or status
a humble position
humbly adverb

humble

2 of 2 verb
humbled; humbling -b(ə-)liŋ How to pronounce humble (audio)
1
: to make humble in spirit or manner
2
: to destroy the power or influence of
humbled the enemy with a crushing attack
humbler noun

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