adjective sub·ser·vi·ent \səb-ˈsər-vē-ənt\

Definition of subservient

  1. 1 :  useful in an inferior capacity :  subordinate

  2. 2 :  serving to promote some end

  3. 3 :  obsequiously submissive :  truckling



Examples of subservient in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. She refused to take a subservient role in their marriage.

Did You Know?

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.

Origin and Etymology of subservient

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

First Known Use: circa 1626

Synonym Discussion of 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.

SUBSERVIENT Defined for English Language Learners


adjective sub·ser·vi·ent \səb-ˈsər-vē-ənt\

Definition of subservient for English Language Learners

  • : very willing or too willing to obey someone else

  • : less important than something or someone else

SUBSERVIENT Defined for Kids


adjective sub·ser·vi·ent \səb-ˈsər-vē-ənt\

Definition of subservient for Students

  1. :  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

Seen and Heard

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a brief usually trivial fact

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