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

Even runway shows have become subservient to it, manufacturing Instagrammable moments. Marc Bain, Quartzy, "Do fashion weeks still have a purpose?," 7 Sep. 2019 It has been reduced to a mere instrument of repression subservient to the political agenda of Beijing’s regime in Hong Kong. Joshua Wong, Quartz, "How to fight for democracy when the government keeps throwing you in jail," 3 Sep. 2019 Who doesn’t really seem to like any personalities that are as big as his, or any players who aren’t subservient. Ann Killion,, "Was Antonio Brown saga a ploy? A Patriots game? Or just Raiders as usual?," 7 Sep. 2019 Families were diminished, identities were lost, and a woman’s right to her body was subservient to the state. Jeffrey Fleishmanstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "She was born into China’s one-child policy. Now, she’s unearthing its ghosts," 9 Aug. 2019 Speaking to a standing-room crowd at the CERAWeek energy conference here, Mr. Pompeo said countries including Russia and Iran had long used their oil and gas assets to trap weaker nations into subservient relationships. Timothy Puko, WSJ, "Trump’s Secretary of State Wants Energy Companies to Help Spread U.S. Values," 13 Mar. 2019 Even if that's true, Miller had to play his cards the right way and not get crosswise with Kush or be seen as subservient to Arizona. Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral, "Reluctant to leave WAC, Arizona State has Arizona to thank for pushing move into Pac-8," 22 June 2019 If federal courts may compel states to reinstate Medicaid providers, the political branches become subservient to the judiciary and the state-federal relationship is abrogated. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Behind the Supreme Court’s Dodge," 12 Dec. 2018 Speaking up can also risk financial troubles, since many congregations of nuns are financially subservient to priests and bishops. Tim Sullivan, The Seattle Times, "AP finds long history of nuns abused by priests in India," 1 Jan. 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

Statistics for subservient

Last Updated

25 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for subservient

The first known use of subservient was circa 1626

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for subservient



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).


to fake an opponent out of position

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Where in the World? A Quiz

  • peter bruegel tower of babel painting
  • What language does pajama come from?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!