incumbent

1 of 2

noun

in·​cum·​bent in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio)
1
: the holder of an office or ecclesiastical benefice
2
: one that occupies a particular position or place

incumbent

2 of 2

adjective

in·​cum·​bent in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio)
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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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
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
Still, East Coast summertime has its own dibs situations: the territorial beach umbrella, the Great Lawn Philharmonic blanket grab, the incumbent at the top of the national ticket who won’t cede his perch. Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, 15 July 2024 The Sun Sentinel endorses incumbent Sarah Leonardi for Broward County School Board District 3. Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, Sun Sentinel, 14 July 2024
Adjective
The incumbent President embodies all the progress America has achieved since the 1960s. Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, Sun Sentinel, 15 July 2024 Kamala Harris would become president and could top the Dem ticket running as an incumbent president. Voice Of The People, New York Daily News, 15 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for incumbent 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'incumbent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

1567, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

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Dictionary Entries Near incumbent

Cite this Entry

“Incumbent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/incumbent. Accessed 22 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

incumbent

1 of 2 noun
in·​cum·​bent in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio)
: the holder of an office or position

incumbent

2 of 2 adjective
1
: given as a duty : obligatory
incumbent on us to take action
2
: being an incumbent
an incumbent president
3
: lying or resting on something else

More from Merriam-Webster on incumbent

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