hu·​mil·​i·​ty | \hyü-ˈmi-lə-tē, yü-\

Definition of humility 

: freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble accepted the honor with humility The ordeal taught her humility.

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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 humility in a Sentence

He accepted the honor with humility. The ordeal taught her humility.

Recent Examples on the Web

Max Weber wrote that politics is work that requires humility and care because the exercise of power over others puts your own soul at risk. Steve Israel,, "What's the greatest book about politics? Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and others weigh in.," 12 July 2018 Two years of extreme gratitude and humility and grace. Dave Quinn,, "Selma Blair Celebrates Two Years of Sobriety, Recalls Her 'Lowest Points': 'I Am a Living Miracle'," 22 June 2018 To behave with candor, decency, humility and grace in a variety of circumstances. Mac Engel, star-telegram, "Dirk's greatest gift isn't that jumper but his commitment | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 10 Apr. 2018 Johnson, who now lives in Charlotte, went on to win 50 races and was a highly successful team owner who is admired for his common-sense smarts and humility. Bruce Henderson, charlotteobserver, "How an ex-moonshiner and a city slicker introduced NASCAR to America," 25 May 2018 Judge Kavanaugh believes in judicial humility and the separation of powers., "Meet Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's Supreme Court Nominee," 10 July 2018 His character sketches of his fellow cooks showed a humility and curiosity about the lives of others that made his television series stand far, far above anyone else’s. Corby Kummer, The Atlantic, "Remembering Anthony Bourdain," 8 June 2018 Imai and his restaurant have a quietude, a humility and openness. Tom Downey, WSJ, "Explore Kyoto With the Chefs Who Are Turning Culinary Tradition on Its Head," 28 May 2018 By Tuesday, Thailand was jubilantly celebrating the rescue of all 13, an audacious undertaking that swelled national pride — but also gratitude and humility for an operation that was an international effort. George Styllis,, "From mission impossible to mission accomplished: Thailand rejoices as last boys rescued from cave," 11 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'humility.' 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 humility

14th century, in the meaning defined above

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Last Updated

25 Oct 2018

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The first known use of humility was in the 14th century

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English Language Learners Definition of humility

: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble


hu·​mil·​i·​ty | \hyü-ˈmi-lə-tē, yü-\

Kids Definition of humility

: the quality of being humble She accepted the award with humility.

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Comments on humility

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