overwhelm

verb
over·​whelm | \ ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm , -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 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 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 US alone. Garance Burke And Martha Mendoza, BostonGlobe.com, "Youngest migrants held in ‘tender age’ shelters," 20 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. Author: Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza, Anchorage Daily News, "Youngest migrants held in ‘tender age’ shelters," 20 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. Time, "Toddlers Separated From Parents at the Border Are Being Detained in 'Tender Age' Shelters," 20 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. CBS News, "AP: Gov't holding "tender age" migrant kids in at least 3 shelters," 20 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 the teens who typically travel to the U.S. alone. NBC News, "Trump officials send migrant babies, toddlers to 'tender age' shelters," 20 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 US alone. Garance Burke And Martha Mendoza, The Christian Science Monitor, "More than 2,300 migrant babies and toddlers kept alone in US shelters," 20 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 Feb 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 , -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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