humble

adjective
hum·​ble | \ ˈhəm-bəl also chiefly Southern ˈəm- How to pronounce humble (audio) \
humbler\ ˈhəm-​b(ə-​)lər How to pronounce humbler (audio) \; humblest\ ˈhəm-​b(ə-​)ləst How to pronounce humblest (audio) \

Definition of humble

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive
2 : reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission a humble apology
3a : ranking low in a hierarchy or scale : insignificant, unpretentious
b : not costly or luxurious a humble contraption

humble

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

Definition of humble (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

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

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Other Words from humble

Adjective

humbleness \ ˈhəm-​bəl-​nəs How to pronounce humbleness (audio) \ noun
humbly \ ˈhəm-​blē How to pronounce humbly (audio) \ adverb

Verb

humbler \ ˈhəm-​b(ə-​)lər How to pronounce humbler (audio) \ noun
humblingly \ ˈhəm-​b(ə-​)liŋ-​lē How to pronounce humblingly (audio) \ adverb

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

On the whole, Spicer came off as humble and self-aware but far from contrite—a triumph of image rehab without accountability. Judy Berman, Time, "Sean Spicer Was an Extremely Good Sport on Dancing With the Stars. That's Exactly the Problem," 17 Sep. 2019 Flacco is unflappable and confident, but also as humble and grounded as any quarterback who has ever won an NFL championship. Mark Kiszla, The Denver Post, "Kiszla: Joe Flacco has always had a big, fat head. And why that’s a good attribute for a Broncos quarterback.," 7 Sep. 2019 Vic's quiet and humble personality will be missed by his family and friends. courant.com, "Victor J. Shaw Jr.," 25 Aug. 2019 Polite, curious, the right mix of self-assured and humble. Cyrus Grace Dunham, The New Yorker, "A Year Without a Name," 12 Aug. 2019 Despite his newfound fame, the teenager comes off as charming and humble, taking Fallon through his daily routine of Fortnite practice. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "Watch Fortnite World Cup champion Bugha show off his trophy on The Tonight Show," 30 July 2019 There are a few basic art-history themes, like the centrality of religion, the rise of humanity and nature as life forces autonomous of God, and the 19th century’s emphasis on everyday life, high and humble. Brian T. Allen, National Review, "Dijon’s Masterpiece of a Museum, Brilliantly Renovated," 20 July 2019 In my humble opinion, tonight was the most important moment of the history of the MLS era of the club. Julia Poe, Pro Soccer USA, "Orlando City fans show commitment with rumble around concourse during Open Cup win," 12 July 2019 The Bible footnotes offer gentle and humble as synonyms for meek. Glenna Christensen, idahostatesman, "True meekness requires self-mastery and strength, and doesn't equate to weakness," 14 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Last year, Glendale was humbled in its season-opener, 42-0, at Pasadena Maranatha in what was Harris’ debut and a game marred by turnovers and mistakes. Andrew J. Campa, Glendale News-Press, "Defense leads Glendale High to season-opening victory," 23 Aug. 2019 Recognizing that our perceptions of the world don’t necessarily reflect the pristine truth of the world is humbling. Brian Resnick, Vox, "How desire can warp our view of the world," 8 Aug. 2019 Considering the expectations that surround a first-round selection, spending last season out of football was humbling for Lynch. Tim Booth, The Denver Post, "Former Broncos QB Paxton Lynch locked in competition with Geno Smith to back up Seahawks’ Russell Wilson," 5 Aug. 2019 Williams and Woodson were admittedly humbled by the exchange, but the two Auburn assistants weren’t there to help teach. Tom Green | Tgreen@al.com, al.com, "Adapt or die: How Auburn coaches look to other programs for slightest advantages in the offseason," 25 June 2019 The Marines were inspirational and their stories were humbling. SI.com, "Road to Women's World Cup: Lynne Cameron Reveals Stories of the Lionesses' Behind the Scenes Photos," 6 June 2019 The wise men of baseball like to say there are only two kinds of baseball players: those who have been humbled and those who are about to be. Tom Verducci, SI.com, "How Justin Verlander Mastered the Twain of Body and Mind in HIs Mid-30s," 1 Sep. 2019 After humbling defeats to Ohio State and at Michigan State, the Hoosiers still manage to beat Rutgers and end their homecoming misery, but that’s the high-water mark of the season. Zach Osterman, Indianapolis Star, "Indiana football: Best- and worst-case scenario for 2019," 27 Aug. 2019 Castillo, who owns the second-lowest ERA in the Majors (2.29), says he was honored and humbled to be picked as an All-Star, but the only thing that felt different was higher expectations on him. Bobby Nightengale, Cincinnati.com, "Houston Astros All-Star Alex Bregman says Cincinnati Reds' Luis Castillo is a 'superstar'," 8 July 2019

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.

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First Known Use of humble

Adjective

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for humble

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

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Statistics for humble

Last Updated

1 Oct 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for humble

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

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More Definitions for humble

humble

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of humble

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: not proud : not thinking of yourself as better than other people
: given or said in a way that shows you do not think you are better than other people
: showing that you do not think of yourself as better than other people

humble

verb

English Language Learners Definition of humble (Entry 2 of 2)

: to make (someone) feel less important or proud : to make (someone) humble
: to easily defeat (someone or something) in a way that is surprising or not expected

humble

adjective
hum·​ble | \ ˈhəm-bəl How to pronounce humble (audio) \
humbler; humblest

Kids Definition of humble

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not regarding others as inferior : not overly proud : modest She is humble despite her great success.
2 : expressed in a way that does not show too much pride humble apologies
3 : low in rank or condition They are people of humble origin.

Other Words from humble

humbly \ -​blē \ adverb

humble

verb
humbled; humbling

Kids Definition of humble (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to make modest The failure humbled him.
2 : to easily and unexpectedly defeat Our surprise attack humbled the enemy.

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More from Merriam-Webster on humble

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with humble

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for humble

Spanish Central: Translation of humble

Nglish: Translation of humble for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of humble for Arabic Speakers

Comments on humble

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