incumbent

noun
in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt \

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 \

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

But legacy incumbents like JPMorgan Chase are increasingly gunning for that same customer — and maybe there is a world in which one of them prevents a Robinhood IPO by buying it. Theodore Schleifer, Recode, "An Amazon veteran is leaving after 20 years to eventually help take Robinhood public," 27 Nov. 2018 Democrats suffered Senate setbacks in North Dakota and Missouri, where incumbents Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill both fell to GOP opponents. Celeste Katz, Glamour, "Democrats Won Back the House—They Have Women to Thank for That," 7 Nov. 2018 In the House of Delegates, incumbents Terri Hill and Eric Ebersole, of Columbia and Catonsville, respectively, both elected in 2014, will be joined by newcomer Jessica Feldmark, of Columbia, during the general election. Cody Boteler, baltimoresun.com, "Lam beats Sigaty in wide victory for District 12 Democratic candidate for state Senate," 27 June 2018 And the party’s most ideologically moderate incumbents tend to be whiter and more male than its progressive ones. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Ocasio-Cortez Proved That ‘Identity Politics’ Is an Asset For Berniecrats," 27 June 2018 Republicans are set to pick a Senate nominee in Montana, one of five deeply red states won by President Trump, and learn in Alabama whether incumbents who have criticized Trump can still win primaries. The Washington Post, OregonLive.com, "8 primaries: Results roll in for key House, Senate races," 5 June 2018 The other four council are open as four incumbents faced term limits. Kate Magill, Columbia Flier, "Council campaign war chests swell, executive race spending revs up," 25 May 2018 Walmart steamrolled incumbents a business generation ago to become the nation’s biggest grocer. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "Data Sheet—Whole Foods Gives Amazon a Shot at Grocery Relevancy," 22 May 2018 On the Republican side, all six of the runoffs are in districts where the incumbent retired. Jeremy Wallace, Houston Chronicle, "Record number of primary runoff elections for Congress in Texas," 22 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

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 This year, Macomb voted for Democrats Gretchen Whitmer for governor and incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Dante Chinni, WSJ, "Blue-Collar Voters Are Up for Grabs in 2020," 16 Dec. 2018 Higher percentages of women than men also sided with incumbent Democratic Sens. Celeste Katz, Glamour, "This Is How Women Voted in the Midterms—and What It Means for Election 2020," 12 Nov. 2018 California’s 39th Congressional District: Young Kim vs. Gil Cisneros Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros are squaring off in California to replace incumbent Republican Rep. Ed Royce, who’s retiring. Emily Stewart, Vox, "The 2018 midterm races that still aren’t over," 14 Nov. 2018 One candidate Democrats have been excited about is Lauren Underwood, a rising star in the Democratic Party, who is taking on incumbent Rep. Randy Hultgren (R) in Illinois’s 14th Congressional District. Tara Golshan, Vox.com, "Illinois results for every midterm race," 8 Nov. 2018 Jealous will now face incumbent Governor Larry Hogan in the fall. Sarah Jones, The New Republic, "Tuesday’s primaries were a good night for the populist left.," 27 June 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

10 Jan 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)

: holding an office or position

incumbent

noun
in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt \

Kids Definition of incumbent

: the holder of an office or position a reelected incumbent

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