humble

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

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- \
humbled; humbling\ˈhəm-​b(ə-​)liŋ \

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 \ noun
humbly \ˈhəm-​blē \ adverb

Verb

humbler \ˈhəm-​b(ə-​)lər \ noun
humblingly \ˈhəm-​b(ə-​)liŋ-​lē \ 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

While there are a ton of scary movies made in that decade to choose from (seriously, did people in the '80s just sit around being scared all the time?), these 11 are the best (in our humble opinions) in no particular order. Cady Drell, Marie Claire, "The Best '80s Horror Movies That Are Still Terrifying Today," 23 Oct. 2018 In our humble opinion, the best kind of surprise party is one that involves Sephora. Leah Prinzivalli, Allure, "Sephora Is Offering Mystery Makeup Kits Full of Beauty Surprises," 26 Sep. 2018 Little things like that along the way to keep me humble. Dom Amore, courant.com, "Dom Amore: UHart's Sean Newcomb Breaking Out In The Big Leagues," 3 July 2018 Kathy McCafferty couldn’t stop talking about how humble John Haas was. Maria Panaritis, Philly.com, "The Haas family gave Stoneleigh gardens to the public. Lower Merion Schools should keep their hands off of it. | Maria Panaritis," 2 June 2018 The bittersweet taste of his departure was apparent in his farewell note, which laid out in great detail the long journey of WPP from humble beginnings to an empire of more than 400 agencies across 112 countries, counting 200,000 employees. Fortune, "WPP CEO Martin Sorrell Resigns From Ad Empire Amid Allegations of Misconduct," 15 Apr. 2018 Parziale is humble about his profession and somewhat reluctant to speak about his experiences as a firefighter. Matias Grez, CNN, "Masters 2018: Firefighter Matt Parziale to tackle Augusta," 3 Apr. 2018 The look of the modern farmhouse style harkened back to a simpler, humbler ambition of homeownership. Laura Fenton, Curbed, "How the ‘modern farmhouse’ look took over," 21 Nov. 2018 Along the tranquil shoreline of Hanoi's Trúc Bạch Lake, where, half a century ago, John McCain was pulled from the water with his parachute, there’s a humble little restaurant that McCain himself might have found amusing, if decidedly odd. Peter Jon Lindberg, Condé Nast Traveler, "Hanoi, Time and Again," 20 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Argenta said she was humbled because Halkias, a younger teacher, nominated her. Carole Carlson, Post-Tribune, "Salk educator meshes teaching and advocacy," 31 May 2018 We were continuously humbled by how enthusiastic people were to host us, and this generosity saved us roughly $7,000 in housing costs. Alexandra Brown, SELF, "7 Steps I Took to Afford Taking a Year Off to Travel the World," 21 Nov. 2018 Carson is forced to retire and passes the torch to a humbled Thomas. Tom Fitzgerald And Lorenzo Marquez, Town & Country, "The 10 Best Downton Abbey Episodes," 12 Sep. 2018 But after an awful outing on May 24, a humbled Hernandez went to Stottlemyre and asked for help. Ryan Divish, The Seattle Times, "Twitter mailbag: Will Felix Hernandez pitch in the postseason if the Mariners make it? Cano to first base? And Magnum P.I.?," 9 July 2018 After cruising to a 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference first-round series, the Sixers were humbled at home in a Game 2 loss. Keith Pompey, Philly.com, "Sixers, returning home for Game 5, look to close out series vs. Heat," 23 Apr. 2018 Barcelona would remain top of La Liga, but their lead would be reduced to just goal difference after being humbled at home. SI.com, "Barcelona vs Valencia Preview: Classic Encounter, Key Battle, Team News & More," 13 Apr. 2018 Liverpool youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold has insisted he isn't worried about coming up against superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League final, because he's already been humbled by another player. SI.com, "Alexander-Arnold Reveals Going Up Against One Player Means He's Not Afraid of Cristiano Ronaldo," 22 May 2018 Perhaps he'd been sent to carry his own message, campaigning for an idea that the greatest strength lies in humbling ourselves before one another. Michael Paterniti, GQ, "Jimmy Carter for Higher Office," 26 June 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

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

Verb

see humble entry 1

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Statistics for humble

Last Updated

10 Dec 2018

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 \
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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