som·​no·​lent ˈsäm-nə-lənt How to pronounce somnolent (audio)
: of a kind likely to induce sleep
a somnolent sermon
: inclined to or heavy with sleep : drowsy
: sleepy sense 2
somnolent rivers
somnolently adverb

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The Sleepy History of Somnolent

Somnolent first appeared in the late 15th century in the redundant phrase "somnolent sleep." It came into English by way of Anglo-French from the Latin word somnolentus, which itself comes from somnus, meaning "sleep." Another offspring of somnus is somnambulism, a synonym of sleepwalking. Insomnia is also a member of this sleepy word family, though it might be considered the black sheep, since it means, of course, "the inability to sleep."

Examples of somnolent in a Sentence

trying to teach somnolent students on a very hot day the somnolent hum of insects in the grass
Recent Examples on the Web Neuroscientists have long had an explanation for our somnolent twitches. Amanda Gefter, The New Yorker, 31 Aug. 2023 Democrats are walking around in some state of somnolent indifference about Joe Biden. Michael Tomasky, The New Republic, 26 June 2023 At Edgewood Tahoe, guest-room TVs show scenic views of Lake Tahoe behind a somnolent custom soundtrack by Sleepy Podcast host Otis Gray reading poetry by Robert Frost. Jon Marcus,, 15 June 2023 The movie is almost entirely a flashback, narrated from the perspective of one of its main characters, Saul Manfred (Barney Phillips), a doctor from the North who’s a recent arrival in the cozy but somnolent seaside town of Braddock, North Carolina, where the action is set. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 9 Aug. 2022 The two men complement each other perfectly: Herzog, who provides the film’s sinuously somnolent voice-over narration in his best Bavarian tones, has a mystic-rhapsodic temperament, while Oppenheimer, who, unlike Herzog, is often seen on camera, is more like a hard science David Attenborough type. The Christian Science Monitor, 11 Nov. 2020 The Sunday crowd, which had been somnolent in previous Big Ten games, was juiced. Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press, 5 Feb. 2023 As the saline infusion nears completion, the client may become somnolent. Seriously Science, Discover Magazine, 28 Oct. 2016 At an uncommon hour, when devoted nightcrawlers are switching from liquor to beer, and even the city that never sleeps slows to a semi-somnolent pace, the two fledgling men’s stars traded spectacular winners in Queens. Jason Gay, WSJ, 8 Sep. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'somnolent.' 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 sompnolent, from Anglo-French, from Latin somnolentus, from somnus sleep; akin to Old English swefn sleep, Greek hypnos

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of somnolent was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near somnolent

Cite this Entry

“Somnolent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


som·​no·​lent ˈsäm-nə-lənt How to pronounce somnolent (audio)
: showing signs of not being fully awake

Medical Definition


som·​no·​lent -lənt How to pronounce somnolent (audio)
: inclined to or heavy with sleep : drowsy
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