hu·​mil·​i·​ty | \ hyü-ˈmi-lə-tē How to pronounce humility (audio) , 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 When Kurbsky wrote a letter denouncing Ivan’s brutalities, Ivan responded at length in his distinctive style: filled with digressions, pious quotations, displays of temper, and rapid alternations between mockery and fake humility. Gary Saul Morson, The New York Review of Books, "Truly Terrible," 11 Feb. 2020 Sanders still projects a distinctly Southern brand of soft-spokenness, one that’s equal parts humility and aversion to fuss. Nathaniel Friedman, The New Yorker, "“If You’re in the Song, Keep on Playing”: An Interview With Pharoah Sanders," 12 Jan. 2020 The Rams don’t have any similar divas because of an aura of humility that permeates the building, an attitude created by the only guy to criticize anybody at the Super Bowl. Los Angeles Times, "Column: If the Patriots can break the Super Bowl curse, maybe the Rams can too," 4 Sep. 2019 There was a candor, a humility, a groundedness to the conversation that shattered all expectations. Brandon Uranowitz, Town & Country, "Legendary Broadway Director Hal Prince Remembered For His "Immovable Reverence for Talent"," 5 Aug. 2019 We custodians of old books are supposed (at least) to be peddling one commodity that journalists and autodidacts sometimes run short on: intellectual humility. Daniel E. Burns, National Review, "What Political Philosophy Can’t Do," 23 Jan. 2020 Chinese viewers found the ad particularly amusing because of the uncomfortably aggressive, yet also hilarious politeness and humility displayed between the pair. NBC News, "Nike's Lunar New Year ad highlights exhausting politeness over red envelope tradition," 21 Jan. 2020 This humility came, in part, from King's embrace of nonviolence, says Podair, the historian. John Blake, CNN, "The one thing about Martin Luther King Jr.'s greatness everyone keeps missing," 20 Jan. 2020 This year of humility at the Fed has led to a dramatic reversal in policy -- from hiking interest rates last year to cutting them in 2019 -- putting the economy on solid footing heading into 2020. Heather Long, Washington Post, "2019: The year the Federal Reserve admitted it was wrong," 11 Dec. 2019

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

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Last Updated

15 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Humility.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for humility


How to pronounce humility (audio)

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 How to pronounce humility (audio) , yü- \

Kids Definition of humility

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

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