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

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web 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, "Allies Wary of U.S. Stance on Huawei and 5G," 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, "When a Mentor Said Tear Down Your Collection and Start Over, They Did," 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, "South Korea construction fire kills at least 38," 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, "The Money Question," 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, "No, Trump’s Authority Isn’t ‘Total’," 14 Apr. 2020 Depictions of such relationships often remain archaic: the husband an oppressive, dominating figure, the wife a subservient, quiet caregiver. NBC News, "'Tigertail' director Alan Yang on the unspoken stories behind Asian parents' journey to America," 7 Apr. 2020 South Korea is quietly moving away from being treated like a subservient state. Chandran Nair, Quartz, "It’s time the world ghosts Trump and gets down to real work," 21 Sep. 2019 To those who’d known her during her heady artistic days, this turn of events — becoming a subservient religious homemaker — was nothing short of stunning. Nick Schager,, "‘Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground’ review: An artist’s life cut short," 22 July 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about subservient

Time Traveler for subservient

Time Traveler

The first known use of subservient was circa 1626

See more words from the same year

Statistics for subservient

Cite this Entry

“Subservient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for subservient


How to pronounce subservient (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of subservient

: very willing or too willing to obey someone else
formal : less important than something or someone else


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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on subservient

What made you want to look up subservient? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt painting a young scholar and his tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!