overwhelm

verb
over·​whelm | \ ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm How to pronounce overwhelm (audio) , -ˈwelm\
overwhelmed; overwhelming; overwhelms

Definition of overwhelm

transitive verb

1 : upset, overthrow The tornado overwhelmed many mobile homes.
2a : to cover over completely : submerge The city was overwhelmed by the flooding caused by the hurricane.
b : to overcome by superior force or numbers The city was overwhelmed by the invading army.
c : to overpower in thought or feeling overwhelmed with grief overwhelmed by terror A sense of inadequacy overwhelmed me. overwhelmed with guilt

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Did You Know?

You could say that the introduction of "overwhelm" to the English language was a bit redundant. The word, which originally meant "to overturn or upset," was formed in Middle English by combining the prefix over- with the verb "whelmen," which also meant "to overturn." "Whelmen" has survived in English as "whelm," a verb which is largely synonymous with "overwhelm." Over the last 600 years, however, "overwhelm" has won over English speakers who have come to largely prefer it to "whelm," despite the latter's brevity. Perhaps the emphatic redundancy of "overwhelm" makes it seem like the more fitting word for describing the experience of being overcome by powerful forces or feelings.

Examples of overwhelm in a Sentence

Don't overwhelm him with facts. They were overwhelmed with work. The city was overwhelmed by the invading army.
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Recent Examples on the Web

And though your detractors may be loud, in the end, their anger will be overwhelmed by the love and support from women everywhere. Cecile Richards, Glamour, "Cecile Richards: I Testified Before Congress. Here's What I Want Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to Know.," 26 Sep. 2018 Parents have always been overwhelmed by babies crying from teething and have used some truly awful, dangerous methods to stop the pain such as drinking alcohol, paregoric (a strong opioid), and now benzocaine. Philly.com, "Why it's time to abandon teething medications," 7 June 2018 Once in the kimchi, those microbes were overwhelmed by others. Marissa Fessenden, Smithsonian, "Vegan Kimchi Is Microbially Pretty Close to the Original," 7 May 2018 Photo: Doug Chayka Striking a just-right balance--enough new choices to excite, but not too many to overwhelm—will be crucial to studios getting into the streaming game, said Dr. Schwartz. Erich Schwartzel, WSJ, "Oscar in the Age of Entertainment Overload," 23 Feb. 2019 Britain wants to build an air fleet of drones designed to overwhelm an enemy’s air defenses, allowing other aircraft to slip through and strike targets with impunity. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "The U.K. Promises to Develop Drone Swarms, But on an Unrealistic Timetable," 12 Feb. 2019 If the bucolic Western experience begins to overwhelm, downtown Tucson is less than 20 miles away. Michaela Bechler, Vogue, "How to Do Winter Glamping Right (Among Saguaros in Arizona)," 8 Jan. 2019 This tableau — which follows about 80 minutes of pure sci-fi madness — is overwhelming to say the least. refinery29.com, "Does The Westworld Ending Hint At A Queer Couple For Season 3?," 25 June 2018 On a practical level, the zero tolerance policy has overwhelmed the federal agency charged with caring for the new influx of children who tend to be much younger than teens who typically have been traveling to the U.S. alone. Washington Post, "At least 3 “tender age” shelters set up for child migrants," 21 June 2018

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for overwhelm

Middle English, from over entry 1 + whelmen to turn over, cover up

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Statistics for overwhelm

Last Updated

20 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for overwhelm

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

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More Definitions for overwhelm

overwhelm

verb

English Language Learners Definition of overwhelm

: to affect (someone) very strongly
: to cause (someone) to have too many things to deal with
: to defeat (someone or something) completely

overwhelm

verb
over·​whelm | \ ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm How to pronounce overwhelm (audio) , -ˈwelm\
overwhelmed; overwhelming

Kids Definition of overwhelm

1 : to overcome completely (as with great force or emotion) The larger army overwhelmed the troops. She was overwhelmed with grief.
2 : to cover over completely : submerge Waves overwhelmed the small boat.

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