sub·​ser·​vi·​ent | \ səb-ˈsər-vē-ənt How to pronounce subservient (audio) \

Definition of subservient

1 : useful in an inferior capacity : subordinate
2 : serving to promote some end
3 : obsequiously submissive : truckling

Other Words from subservient

subserviently adverb

How Should You Use subservient?

Since sub- means "below", it emphasizes the lower position of the person in the subservient one. Soldiers of a given rank are always subservient to those of a higher rank; this subservience is symbolized by the requirement that they salute their superior at every opportunity. Women have often been forced into subservient relationships with men. A small nation may feel subservient to its more powerful neighbor, obliged to obey even when it doesn't want to. So subservience usually brings with it a good dose of resentment.

Examples of subservient in a Sentence

Henson and Stowe did become close friends, and Stowe herself drew direct parallels between Uncle Tom and Josiah Henson. Sadder still, the term "Uncle Tom" has since taken on negative, minstrel-show connotations of subservient blacks kowtowing to whites, which is unfortunate, because it undermines the triumph that was Josiah Henson's life. He was no caricature, and his achievements were real. — Will Ferguson, Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, 2004 Sally Boysen, a psychologist at Ohio State University, probed the degree to which a chimp's ability to reason is subservient to the animal's desires. — Eugene Linden, Time, 6 Sept. 1999 That's why many believe that I have the right to preach but not to pastor. For a woman to be a pastor would mean that men would have to submit and be subservient to a woman. — Chryll Crews, Ms., January/February 1998 As for a "European Europe," allied with but not subservient to the United States, providing for its own defense and diplomacy and practicing detente with Moscow, de Gaulle did not achieve it in his lifetime, but there was at least a beginning. — Stanley Hoffmann, New York Times Book Review, 20 Mar. 1983 She refused to take a subservient role in their marriage.
Recent Examples on the Web More legislators used to think for themselves and not be so subservient to party dogma. George Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 23 June 2022 Occasionally a tracking device might make an appearance out of narrative necessity, or a character may briefly note the rules of the game before slipping through time, but all these descriptions are firmly subservient. Amy Brady, Scientific American, 1 Apr. 2022 Critics of McCormack within the Nationals accused him of being too subservient to the dominant conservative Liberal Party. Rod Mcguirk, Star Tribune, 21 June 2021 For months until the coronavirus pandemic, America’s top officials crisscrossed the continent, arguing that the Chinese company is an espionage threat, subservient to its authoritarian government. Drew Hinshaw, WSJ, 9 Apr. 2020 In the original painting, this young black boy was shown in shackles, subservient to the university benefactors. Jori Finkel, New York Times, 12 Feb. 2020 South Korea, one of Asia’s richest economies, has struggled for decades to improve safety standards and change widespread attitudes that treat safety as subservient to economic progress and convenience. NBC News, 29 Apr. 2020 Agriculture and labor leaders protested that the Fed was subservient to bankers, a charge that was echoed in the halls of Congress. Christopher W. Shaw, Harper's Magazine, 30 Mar. 2020 The United States is a federal republic in which the national government enjoys only limited powers, and in which the president plays a subservient role to Congress within that limited government. The Editors, National Review, 14 Apr. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'subservient.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of subservient

circa 1626, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for subservient

Latin subservient-, subserviens, present participle of subservire — see subserve

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The first known use of subservient was circa 1626

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Cite this Entry

“Subservient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2022.

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More Definitions for subservient


sub·​ser·​vi·​ent | \ səb-ˈsər-vē-ənt How to pronounce subservient (audio) \

Kids Definition of subservient

: submissive If Martha had been a well-trained fine young lady's maid she would have been more subservient— Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden


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