sub·​ser·​vi·​ent | \səb-ˈsər-vē-ənt \

Definition of subservient 

1 : useful in an inferior capacity : subordinate

2 : serving to promote some end

3 : obsequiously submissive : truckling

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Other Words from subservient

subserviently adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for subservient

subservient, servile, slavish, obsequious mean showing or characterized by extreme compliance or abject obedience. subservient implies the cringing manner of one very conscious of a subordinate position. domestic help was expected to be properly subservient servile suggests the mean or fawning behavior of a slave. a political boss and his entourage of servile hangers-on slavish suggests abject or debased servility. the slavish status of migrant farm workers obsequious implies fawning or sycophantic compliance and exaggerated deference of manner. waiters who are obsequious in the presence of celebrities

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Throughout its history, the Russian Orthodox Church had been subservient to the state and an unshakable supporter of autocracy. Michael Khodarkovsky, WSJ, "Russia Wages a Religious War Against Ukraine," 30 Sep. 2018 Street vendors warn androids away for fear of scaring off customers, even though dozens of subservient androids wander every street. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Detroit: Become Human review: Robotic in all of the wrong ways," 24 May 2018 The series involves a world where some unsavory men brainwash a coven of witches into subservient, suburban housewives. Tracy Brown,, "DC's Vertigo to relaunch with new name, logo and seven comic-book series," 7 June 2018 Presidents in the 20th century were subservient to the PRI. The Economist, "How Andrés Manuel López Obrador will remake Mexico," 23 June 2018 Solo also mined the original film for plot ideas — the subservient status of droids is a good one! — but fell short in the execution. Seth Masket, Vox, "We need to talk about the woke droid," 1 June 2018 Mike Pence believes in 'servant leadership' Pence is loathe to buck the chain of command, Brower writes, which may be one reason why some see him as being too subservient to Trump. Dwight Adams, Indianapolis Star, "Observations about Mike Pence from 'Vanity Fair' article," 31 May 2018 The world has been transformed by the existence of subservient machines that can do anything a human can do and more. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Detroit: Become Human review: Robotic in all of the wrong ways," 24 May 2018 From there, Offred is joined by three other handmaids who laughingly discuss the bleak state-of-affairs that is their new subservient lifestyle. Jennifer Lance, Glamour, "Saturday Night Live Graced Us With a Mashup of The Handmaid's Tale and Sex and the City—and, Well, Praise Be," 13 May 2018

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.

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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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Last Updated

20 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for subservient

The first known use of subservient was circa 1626

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More Definitions for subservient



English Language Learners Definition of subservient

: very willing or too willing to obey someone else

: less important than something or someone else


sub·​ser·​vi·​ent | \səb-ˈsər-vē-ənt \

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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More from Merriam-Webster on subservient

Spanish Central: Translation of subservient

Nglish: Translation of subservient for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of subservient for Arabic Speakers

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