overwhelm

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verb over·whelm \ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm, -ˈwelm\

Definition of overwhelm

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  upset, overthrow The tornado overwhelmed many mobile homes.

  3. 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

overwhelm was our Word of the Day on 11/08/2011. Hear the podcast!

Examples of overwhelm in a sentence

  1. Don't overwhelm him with facts.

  2. They were overwhelmed with work.

  3. The city was overwhelmed by the invading army.

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.

Origin and Etymology of overwhelm

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


First Known Use: 14th century


OVERWHELM Defined for English Language Learners

overwhelm

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verb over·whelm \ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm, -ˈwelm\

Definition of overwhelm for English Language Learners

  • : to affect (someone) very strongly

  • : to cause (someone) to have too many things to deal with

  • : to defeat (someone or something) completely


OVERWHELM Defined for Kids

overwhelm

play
verb over·whelm \ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm, -ˈwelm\

Definition of overwhelm for Students

overwhelmed

;

overwhelming

  1. 1 :  to overcome completely (as with great force or emotion) The larger army overwhelmed the troops. She was overwhelmed with grief.

  2. 2 :  to cover over completely :  submerge Waves overwhelmed the small boat.



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a person who is a bore or nuisance

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