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

This is far from the first time that Patrick has been overwhelmed with Grey's fans on Instagram. Kayla Keegan, Good Housekeeping, "'Grey's Anatomy' Fans Ambush Patrick Dempsey's Instagram and BEG Him to Reprise Derek Shepherd," 4 Apr. 2019 Iraqi detention centers and courts are already overwhelmed with IS suspects, and the country has recently begun repatriating IS militants detained in Syria. Qassim Abdul-zahra, The Seattle Times, "Iraqi leader says there’s ‘consensus’ on US troops presence," 30 Mar. 2019 Being overwhelmed with life can lead to mood disruption and increased anxiety levels, so keep yourself balanced by normalizing your schedule in any way possible. Abby Langer, SELF, "How to Deal With the Holidays When You’re Anxious About Food," 20 Nov. 2018 According to Radar's source, the decision came because Vanderpump was grieving over the death of her brother and overwhelmed with various professional projects. Abby Gardner, Glamour, "Is Lisa Vanderpump Actually Leaving Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?," 14 Nov. 2018 After two goofy fraternity pledges accidentally defrost the body of a teenager who was infected by an experimental brain-eating lifeform in the 1950s, Greek row is overwhelmed with zombies. Joyce Bautista Ferrari, Marie Claire, "The Best Horror Movies That Aren't Too Scary," 29 Oct. 2018 There is something pure about an image that is not overwhelmed with the context of a garment. Melania Hidalgo, The Cut, "This Daring Female Photographer Is Launching a New Book," 27 Apr. 2018 Baylor won its first two games by an average of 48 points, and then used its front line to overwhelm the Gamecocks early and turn back their third-quarter attempt to claw back in it. Joedy Mccreary, The Seattle Times, "Baylor beats South Carolina 93-68, returns to Elite 8," 30 Mar. 2019 Flash flooding can lead to water contamination by overwhelming urban drainage systems or enhancing agricultural runoff. Scott K. Johnson, Ars Technica, "US tries to bury report on climate change’s dire health, economic impacts," 26 Nov. 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

15 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

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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