over·​whelm ˌō-vər-ˈ(h)welm How to pronounce overwhelm (audio)
overwhelmed; overwhelming; overwhelms

transitive verb

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

Did you know?

Let’s face it: life can get overwhelming. A person might be overwhelmed by a sensory experience or emotion; a city might be overwhelmed by an influx of tourists. Things can underwhelm, too: a bland meal, a bare wall, a lackluster playlist. But how often does an experience just, well, whelm you? The answer, unassumingly, is just as often as one overwhelms you—the two verbs are in fact largely synonymous. Both come from Middle English whelmen, meaning "to overturn," and overwhelm has always been more popular, perhaps because the emphatic redundancy of overwhelm makes it seem more apt for describing reactions to 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.
Recent Examples on the Web Alcaraz’s power and thrust are normally enough to overwhelm opponents, albeit with the caveat that his season has rather petered out after that majestic day in Wimbledon. Tim Ellis, Forbes, 28 Nov. 2023 Since The Eras Tour concert film premiered in theaters on Oct. 13, Swift has been overwhelmed by the response. Julia Moore, Peoplemag, 27 Nov. 2023 The group began its assault by firing thousands of rockets to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Audrey Kurth Cronin, Foreign Affairs, 22 Nov. 2023 And they were overwhelmed by the generosity of veteran guild members who have the means to pay for a food truck for a day or make other substantial donations that made a difference for members overall. Cynthia Littleton, Variety, 18 Nov. 2023 But mobile orders can overwhelm baristas quickly, especially on days when the company offers discounts or freebies. Amelia Lucas, NBC News, 16 Nov. 2023 Medical staff say they have been overwhelmed by the number of wounded and a shortage of medical supplies. Chao Deng, WSJ, 11 Nov. 2023 The suspect was overwhelmed by the flight crew and subdued, and then handcuffed to a seat, the federal official told ABC News last month. Jolie Lash, ABC News, 16 Nov. 2023 The vent is meant to be a much larger leak in the system than any small breaks in the seal, overwhelming the small changes and allowing the noise-cancellation algorithm to do its work, Householder explains. IEEE Spectrum, 14 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near overwhelm

Cite this Entry

“Overwhelm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/overwhelm. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


over·​whelm ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm How to pronounce overwhelm (audio)
: to cover over completely : submerge
a boat overwhelmed by a wave
: to overcome completely : crush
overwhelmed by grief

More from Merriam-Webster on overwhelm

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!