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


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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

: to make (someone) humble (see humble entry 1) in spirit or manner
: 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
The model and actress, née Vickie Lynn Hogan, made a name for herself in Hollywood despite her humble beginnings. Alex Gurley, Peoplemag, 12 May 2023 Of all the dishes at Dunsmoor restaurant in Glassell Park — cooked over a hearth at chef-owner Brian Dunsmoor’s ode to regional American dining — the one that might leave the greatest impression is a humble bowl of stew. Ben Mims, Los Angeles Times, 11 May 2023 Her mixed-media abstractions, full of colors that are both ripe and bruised, odd forms, and occasional patterns, honor the humble and overlooked like landmarks of memory. Globe Staff,, 10 May 2023 The cost of flour, water and eggs, pasta’s humble chief ingredients, are typically low, but have fluctuated recently. Mario Cortez, San Francisco Chronicle, 8 May 2023 While his performance at the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa in Las Vegas marked a momentous victory in his wrestling career, Woods is staying humble and looking ahead to what comes next. Josh Reed, Anchorage Daily News, 7 May 2023 But in practically every iteration, a bowl of rice is topped with a thick layer of deliciousness and served in proportions that vary from the very humble to the deeply extravagant. Bryan Washington, New York Times, 3 May 2023 This humble spot does a brisk take-out business, though there are a few tables inside as well as outdoor seating. Leslie Kelly, Forbes, 21 Apr. 2023 Overview Hidden behind the luxury façade of the 2023 Lincoln Corsair lurks a humble Ford Escape, but a thick veneer of premium materials effectively masks its middle-class origins. Drew Dorian, Car and Driver, 14 Apr. 2023
Holmes might have a humbling first job at the prison, according to a former inmate at the facility. MORE: Ex-Theranos employees describe culture of secrecy at Elizabeth Holmes' startup: 'The Dropout' podcast ep. Luke Barr, ABC News, 30 May 2023 Since that humbling loss, South has been on an impressive run, outscoring its last eight opponents 46-5 during the winning streak. Josh Reed, Anchorage Daily News, 12 May 2023 Craig, possibly humbled by the opportunity, doesn't try to jazz up Blume. A.a. Dowd, Chron, 27 Apr. 2023 Kendall Graveman is ‘humbled’ by Team USA opportunity. Chicago Tribune, 18 Feb. 2023 The fact that a woman as fully optimized as Chopra Jonas would demand more of herself is humbling. Sara Austin, ELLE, 28 Apr. 2023 But, famous for their bluster, that early defeat did not humble them. Tania Ganguli, New York Times, 25 Apr. 2023 On his podcast, the future NFL player said he was honored and humbled when Aaron's brother Jordan Rodgers compared Young's skills to that of Aaron. Alex Gurley, Peoplemag, 25 Apr. 2023 And honestly, there were so many life moments that happened for me that humbled me, so this was really purely joy. Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY, 15 Apr. 2023 See More

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


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


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


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.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


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


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

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