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

In his narration and chats with Murray, Wyman is genial and informative; a largely contained, humble, reflective soul. Gary Goldstein, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Review: ‘Quiet One’ captures essence of the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman," 4 July 2019 But a humble timber chair might be the city’s most enduring legacy. Curbed Staff, Curbed, "What five failed utopias can teach us today," 3 July 2019 The thousands of items on the list are primarily consumer products, including clothes, shoes, toys, cellphones — and yes, the humble tennis ball. Catherine Rampell, The Denver Post, "Rampell: Trump’s proposed tennis ball tariff represents a grand slam of terrible trade policy," 30 June 2019 And in my humble opinion, no barbecue is complete without a meat thermometer. Isabelle Kagan, USA TODAY, "Our favorite affordable probe thermometer is on sale for July Fourth," 25 June 2019 In our humble opinion, Josh Rosen was a kid in college who did something pretty hilarious. Nina Mandell, For The Win, "Josh Rosen explains the story behind the infamous hot tub photo on Instagram," 10 Apr. 2018 Despite the humble name, Peterson’s car is quite the spectacle. Zekriah Chaudhry, Twin Cities, "Meet the Back to the 50s car show’s Custom of the Year. It’s ‘Nutten Special.’," 21 June 2019 In the stubby lane, one-size-fits-all ball and the humble delta of pins, the compression of urban life in the early 20th century is almost palpable, as is the relief this unpretentious game must have offered. Ben Crandell, sun-sentinel.com, "SummerTimeOut: Duckpin bowling at Rec Room in Fort Lauderdale," 20 June 2019 The most common criticism is that these women do not represent the humble and tough matriarchs of Paradise. Laura Newberry, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column One: In a tiny California town ravaged by fire, a muralist finds a calling — and notoriety," 18 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Her operation reminded me of the last time Democrats had been humbled: after the 2004 elections. Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review, "No More Chastened Democrats," 28 June 2019 After securing a second straight La Liga title Barca were humbled in the Champions League, blowing yet another three-goal lead and bowing out of the competition in the semi-final to eventual champions Liverpool. SI.com, "Barcelona Pre-Season 2019: Where to Watch the Blaugrana Play This Summer," 4 June 2019 By basically every measure I wasn’t supposed to be (in the majors), so I’m humbled and grateful for the contract and the chance to go to work at the field every day. Kyle Newman, The Denver Post, "Cubs’ David Bote, a former Denver preps star, is hungry to help Chicago win another World Series," 9 June 2019 Schwartz was a high-powered person humbled by the realities of illness, an experience that gave him additional perspective and empathy for the players in the healthcare system. Corinne Purtill, Quartz at Work, "A simple strategy helps doctors fight burnout. Could it work for the rest of us?," 5 June 2019 This was the year when Big Tech companies were humbled, their reputations tarnished, and their share prices clobbered by a tidal wave of political outrage over misinformation, censorship, and data abuse. Greg Ip, WSJ, "Beware the Big Tech Backlash," 19 Dec. 2018 After being humbled by the lowly Miami Marlins two days in a row, the Milwaukee Brewers bounced back Thursday with their usual home run power. Tom Kertscher, sun-sentinel.com, "Ex-Marlin Yelich’s home run key in preventing Miami sweep in Milwaukee," 6 June 2019 Not going to wait until tomorrow to express my love for the one that humbles me women crush (not only on Wednesday’s) but every day. Fox News, "Britney Spears' boyfriend Sam Asghari gushes about her in loving Instagram post," 2 Oct. 2018 If life is designed to humble us in the face of time, there is joy in that humility. Dave Shiflett, WSJ, "‘Been So Long’ Review: Born to Wander," 7 Sep. 2018

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

9 Jul 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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