incumbent

noun
in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio) \

Definition of incumbent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the holder of an office or ecclesiastical benefice
2 : one that occupies a particular position or place

incumbent

adjective
in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio) \

Definition of incumbent (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : imposed as a duty : obligatory incumbent on us to take action
2 : having the status of an incumbent (see incumbent entry 1) the team's incumbent third baseman especially : occupying a specified office the incumbent mayor
3 : lying or resting on something else
4 : bent over so as to rest on or touch an underlying surface

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Synonyms & Antonyms for incumbent

Synonyms: Adjective

compulsory, forced, imperative, involuntary, mandatory, necessary, nonelective, obligatory, peremptory, required

Antonyms: Adjective

elective, optional, voluntary

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The Religious History of Incumbent

Noun

When incumbent was first used in English in the 15th century, it referred to someone who occupied a benefice—a paid position in a church. This was often a lifetime appointment; the person could only be forced to leave the office in the case of certain specific legal conflicts. In the mid-17th century, incumbent came to refer to anyone holding any office, including elected positions. These days, in the American political system, incumbent generally refers to someone who is the current holder of a position during an election to fill that position. Incumbent came to English through Anglo-French and derives from the Latin incumbere, meaning "to lie down on."

Examples of incumbent in a Sentence

Noun

Because the statehouse now determines voting districts, the current map generally ensures that incumbents face minimal challenges to re-election. — Terry McCarthy, Time, 20 Dec. 2004 When Reagan and Clinton were seeking re-election, they didn't go after their opponents directly, in part because they didn't have to. Those incumbents knew that there's a point at which strong and tough can look weak and desperate. — Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, 9 Aug. 2004 Jane Austen was born into the downwardly mobile branch of an upper-middle-class family.  … None of the Austen children could inherit the family home from their father, a Church of England clergyman; after his death it would go to the next incumbent. — Kevin Barry, New York Times Book Review, 7 Dec. 1997 Voters will have the chance to see the incumbent and her opponent in a series of three debates. Incumbents often have an advantage in elections.

Adjective

It is incumbent upon the press to act not in its own best interests, but in society's best interests. — Carll Tucker, Saturday Review, 23 June 1979 … the various types of obligation incumbent on the members of the profession. — R. M. MacIver, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, January 1955 … Mr. Lorry felt it incumbent on him to speak a word or two of reassurance. — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859 it is incumbent upon you to attend every staff meeting
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Of their endorsed candidates, three incumbents and three freshmen are now serving in the House. Bridget Read, Vogue, "Knock Down the House Reminds Us that AOC's Triumph Almost Wasn't," 3 May 2019 The West Virginia Senate race is considered a toss-up in the midterm elections, as Republicans hope to unseat incumbent Joe Manchin, a Democrat who first won the seat in a 2010 special election. Alex Pappas, Fox News, "Morrisey pulls off upset in W.Va. Senate primary, as Indiana’s Braun and Ohio’s Renacci win nominations," 2 Oct. 2018 Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election Sunday, beating incumbent Petro Poroshenko with 73% of the vote according to exit polls. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Ukraine’s Presidential Gamble," 21 Apr. 2019 The 21-year incumbent councilman, Terrence Hassett, who Kat had been running against, had failed to secure the number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot. Nika Lomazzo, Teen Vogue, "What It's Like to Help Your Best Friend Win an Election," 12 Nov. 2018 Both are women of color taking on 10-term incumbents. James Pindell, BostonGlobe.com, "Suddenly every Democrat is the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Just ask them," 13 July 2018 The union also chose not to endorse two candidates with ties to Stoneman Douglas who are challenging School Board incumbents. Scott Travis, Sun-Sentinel.com, "Teachers union not endorsing any candidate with ties to Stoneman Douglas," 12 July 2018 However, the party is sticking with two other controversial endorsements against progressive female incumbents in the September Democratic primary. Alex Seitz-wald /, NBC News, "Rhode Island Democrats rescind endorsements following backlash," 5 July 2018 Before the incident with Ruiz, he was given a good chance at defeating Saucedo, a two-term incumbent. John Maccormack, San Antonio Express-News, "‘Zeta’ remark brings swift consequences to runoff candidate," 22 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

This cycle, Democrats happen to be defending a number of tough seats in deep red states, with few counter-opportunities to oust incumbent Republicans. Evan Horowitz, BostonGlobe.com, "You think the Democrats are poised to retake the House? Think again," 5 June 2018 It was largely seen as a potential pick-up for Democrats since incumbent Rep. Klint Kesto, a Republican, is term-limited, the Detroit News reported. Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Fox News, "Michigan House candidate allegedly embezzled more than $100K from another campaign," 25 Sep. 2018 Cristina Osmeña, a Republican House candidate challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier in California's 14th District, came to the U.S. at age six when her family left the Philippines to escape the Marcos regime. Celeste Katz, Glamour, "For Female Political Candidates, Sometimes the Biggest Threat Isn’t Losing an Election," 17 Sep. 2018 Even Baidu, the incumbent market leader with a 70% market share, is in trouble. Jacky Wong, WSJ, "Bing, Baidu and a Big Mess for Chinese Search Engines," 24 Jan. 2019 In her first run in 2012, Love lost to incumbent Democrat Jim Matheson by 768 votes. Brady Mccombs, The Seattle Times, "Democrats flip Utah House seat as McAdams tops Rep. Mia Love," 20 Nov. 2018 In 1996, a violent Communist insurgency ravaged the country; over the next 10 years, some 17,000 people were killed, with civil war finally putting an end to the incumbent government and 240 years of the troubled Nepali monarchy. Sophy Roberts, Condé Nast Traveler, "On Your Next Trip to Nepal, Rent the House Sir Edmund Hillary Loved," 20 Dec. 2018 Bob Menendez, the scandal-ridden incumbent senator, saw off a primary challenge by a thin margin. The Economist, "Democrats avoid disaster in California’s crazy primaries," 7 June 2018 Among them was Ocasio-Cortez, the young bartender who ran against incumbent centrist Democrat Joe Crowley in the New York’s 14th District primary. David Roberts, Vox, "The Green New Deal, explained," 21 Dec. 2018

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

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

1567, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for incumbent

Noun and Adjective

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin incumbent-, incumbens, present participle of incumbere to lie down on, from in- + -cumbere to lie down; akin to cubare to lie

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Last Updated

16 May 2019

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Time Traveler for incumbent

The first known use of incumbent was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for incumbent

incumbent

noun

English Language Learners Definition of incumbent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a person who holds a particular office or position

incumbent

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of incumbent (Entry 2 of 2)

formal : holding an office or position

incumbent

noun
in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio) \

Kids Definition of incumbent

: the holder of an office or position a reelected incumbent

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