Definition of overwhelm
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>
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.
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
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
Definition of overwhelm for Students
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.>
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up overwhelm? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).