overwhelm

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

Definition of overwhelm

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

  1. Don't overwhelm him with facts.

  2. They were overwhelmed with work.

  3. The city was overwhelmed by the invading army.

Recent Examples of overwhelm from the Web

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.

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


OVERWHELM Defined for English Language Learners

overwhelm

verb

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

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

Definition of overwhelm for Students

overwhelmed; overwhelming
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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