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.

Examples of humble in a Sentence

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Shelburne probed Sterling’s rise from humble beginnings to the largest residential landlord in Los Angeles. Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2024 These colors are seen in humbler places, too — outside homes all across America, for example. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 20 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for humble 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'humble.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 26 May. 2024.

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

More from Merriam-Webster on humble

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!