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su·​pine su̇-ˈpīn How to pronounce supine (audio)
 attrib also  ˈsü-ˌpīn
: lying on the back or with the face upward
: marked by supination
: exhibiting indolent or apathetic inertia or passivity
especially : mentally or morally slack
archaic : leaning or sloping backward
supinely adverb
supineness noun


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su·​pine ˈsü-ˌpīn How to pronounce supine (audio)
: a Latin verbal noun having an accusative of purpose in -um and an ablative of specification in -u
: an English infinitive with to

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The Difference Between Prone, Supine, and Prostrate

In literal use, prone and supine indicate contrasting positions of the body: a person lying prone is facing downward while a person lying supine is face up.

Both prone and supine also have meanings that have nothing to do with physical position. Supine, in keeping with the image of one lying comfortably idle, can be applied to those who are willing to be controlled by others, or who show mental or moral slackness, as in "supine obedience" or "supine inaction."

Prone is used in the sense of "having a tendency or inclination," as in "prone to worry" or "accident-prone." This usage is similar to such words as apt, liable, or likely (as in "apt to be late"), but in many instances prone implies a vulnerability to attack or damaging influence, in keeping with the image of one lying face down and unable to see what is approaching.

The word prostrate too has meanings to do with body position. It is used with the very specific meaning of "stretched out with face on the ground in adoration or submission," but is also used simply to mean "lying flat." In figurative use, prostrate means "completely overcome and lacking vitality, will, or power to rise," as in "prostrate in fear."

So while prone, supine, and prostrate have specific meanings with regard to body position, they also come with situational connotations in many cases: prone suggests exposure or vulnerability; supine connotes a position of weakness or passivity; and prostrate implies submission in the face of being overcome.

Choose the Right Synonym for supine

prone, supine, prostrate, recumbent mean lying down.

prone implies a position with the front of the body turned toward the supporting surface.

push-ups require a prone position

supine implies lying on one's back and suggests inertness or abjectness.

lying supine on the couch

prostrate implies lying full-length as in submission, defeat, or physical collapse.

a runner fell prostrate at the finish line

recumbent implies the posture of one sleeping or resting.

a patient comfortably recumbent in a hospital bed

inactive, idle, inert, passive, supine mean not engaged in work or activity.

inactive applies to anyone or anything not in action or in operation or at work.

on inactive status as an astronaut
inactive accounts

idle applies to persons that are not busy or occupied or to their powers or their implements.

workers were idle in the fields

inert as applied to things implies powerlessness to move or to affect other things; as applied to persons it suggests an inherent or habitual indisposition to activity.

inert ingredients in drugs
an inert citizenry

passive implies immobility or lack of normally expected response to an external force or influence and often suggests deliberate submissiveness or self-control.

passive resistance

supine applies only to persons and commonly implies abjectness or indolence.

a supine willingness to play the fool

Examples of supine in a Sentence

Adjective He was lying supine on the couch. a supine legislature that is afraid to take action
Recent Examples on the Web
The other thread is the party’s supine deference to its rich and corporate patrons. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 3 Nov. 2023 Use it as a cozy substitute for a yoga block during supine twists, or lie on top of it during shavasana. Lindsey Lanquist, Verywell Health, 5 July 2023 His supine state Legislature, which makes virtually every wish of DeSantis’ its command, has allotted $24 million to ship migrants — even those outside Florida — from the southern U.S. border to other, mostly Democratic, states. Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times, 7 June 2023 Looking annoyed, Samuel Alito, who may vie with Clarence Thomas for the position of most conservative justice but is without a doubt the most irritable, rubbed his temple and jolted himself back in his chair, which apparently reclines to an almost supine position. Ryann Liebenthal, The New Republic, 9 May 2023 During the study, participants were supine, or lying on their backs, for 72 straight hours, which created enough pressure to alter the shape of the eyeball. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 9 Dec. 2021 The bill would bar school personnel and police stationed on campus from physically restraining students in potentially life-threatening ways, like restricting their breathing or using a prone or supine restraint. NBC News, 5 Oct. 2021 France is worn out, she is made to be supine not made to fight. Mark Mazower, The New York Review of Books, 16 Jan. 2020 Safe Act would bar school personnel and police stationed on campus from physically restraining students in potentially life-threatening ways, like restricting their breathing or using a prone or supine restraint. NBC News, 26 May 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'supine.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English suppyne, from Latin supinus; akin to Latin sub under, up to — more at up


Middle English supyn, from Late Latin supinum, from Latin, neuter of supinus, adjective

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of supine was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near supine

Cite this Entry

“Supine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


: lying on the back or with the face upward
: showing mental or moral indifference : lazy
supinely adverb

Medical Definition


: lying on the back or with the face upward
: marked by supination
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