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

Essential Meaning of incumbent

: a person who holds a particular office or position 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.

Full 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


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

Synonyms & Antonyms for incumbent

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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The Religious History of Incumbent

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. In the modern American political system, incumbent typically refers to someone who is the current holder of a position during an election for that position. The word also functions as an adjective with its most common meanings being "occupying a specified office" ("the incumbent mayor") and "obligatory" ("it is incumbent upon us to help"). 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 One incumbent, Don Carmichael, held onto his seat, while Sonal Kulkarni, Cara Benjamin and Kara Drumke took the other three seats. James T. Norman,, 3 Jan. 2022 Before those endorsements, Murkowski received the support of her fellow Alaska incumbent, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, 29 Dec. 2021 The conservative incumbent, Mr. Piñera, saw his approval ratings plummet below 20 percent over the past two years. New York Times, 19 Dec. 2021 The incumbent, who is the longest-serving House member in Texas, has already given her endorsement to state Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas — the most liberal member of the Texas House. Cayla Harris, San Antonio Express-News, 16 Dec. 2021 The incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández, has been accused by U.S. prosecutors of funding his campaigns with drug money and could be extradited to the U.S. if his party loses power. Grayson Quay, The Week, 28 Nov. 2021 Her election was all but assured after the 10-term Democratic incumbent, Bill Lehman, decided to retire. David Stout, New York Times, 28 Nov. 2021 O'Rourke's position draws him into a direct confrontation with the GOP incumbent, who has presided over a loosening of restrictions on firearms in an already heavily pro-gun state. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 22 Nov. 2021 Almost a year later, a local housing activist, India Walton, stunned Buffalo’s Democratic establishment by winning the mayoral primary, defeating the four-term incumbent, Byron Brown. Keeanga-yamahtta Taylor, The New Yorker, 29 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Listing a Sandusky address, conservative commentator Madison Gesiotto Gilbert filed Federal Election Commission paperwork last week to run as a Republican in the 9th congressional district where Toledo Democrat Marcy Kaptur is incumbent. Laura Hancock, cleveland, 30 Nov. 2021 History is on the side of Republicans because the party of incumbent presidents has typically lost congressional seats in midterm elections. Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times, 1 Sep. 2021 Biden’s presidency is only a few months old, a lot can happen in two years, and incumbent presidents typically lose seats during midterm elections. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 23 Mar. 2021 In New Jersey, Republican Richard Durr, a truck driver, defeated a longtime and powerful incumbent state Democrat – and president of the state Senate – in a shocking upset … without really campaigning or spending much money. David Paleologos, USA TODAY, 8 Nov. 2021 In New Jersey, Phil Murphy, the incumbent Democrat, beat Jack Ciattarelli, his Republican challenger, and became the first Democrat to win reëlection as the Garden State’s governor in forty-four years. Eric Lach, The New Yorker, 6 Nov. 2021 Some are incumbent on the workers themselves, while others must be facilitated by IT processes and procedures. Saryu Nayyar, Forbes, 4 Nov. 2021 He was elected, as a Republican, after beating the incumbent Democrat in the November 2020 election. Stephen Richer, CNN, 22 Sep. 2021 The next big question will be if any big-name GOP candidates run for governor next year — or for Senate against Alex Padilla, the incumbent Democrat. Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, 14 Sep. 2021

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


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


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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Time Traveler for incumbent

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

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Last Updated

8 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Incumbent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for incumbent


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

More from Merriam-Webster on incumbent

Nglish: Translation of incumbent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of incumbent for Arabic Speakers


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