whelmed; whelming; whelms

transitive verb

: to turn (something, such as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something : cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect
: to overcome in thought or feeling : overwhelm
whelmed with a rush of joyG. A. Wagner

intransitive verb

: to pass or go over something so as to bury or submerge it

Did you know?

In the film comedy Ten Things I Hate About You (1999), the character Chastity Church asks, "I know you can be underwhelmed and you can be overwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?" The answer, Chastity, is yes. Contemporary writers sometimes use whelm to denote a middle stage between underwhelm and overwhelm. But that's not how whelm has traditionally been used. Whelm and overwhelm have been with us since Middle English (when they were whelmen and overwhelmen), and throughout the years their meanings have largely overlapped. Both words early on meant "to overturn," for example, and both have also come to mean "to overpower in thought or feeling." After folks started using a third word, underwhelmed, for "unimpressed," whelmed began popping up with the meaning "moderately impressed."

Examples of whelm in a Sentence

the news so whelmed them that they were stunned into silence
Recent Examples on the Web You’ll definitely be whelmed by the legit chemistry between Kat and Patrick, rebel teens who steal the show with their sweetness and dazzling wits. Angelique Jackson, Variety, 12 May 2023 Its reputation is built on the backs of 3-series gone by, as this is the first ever 3 to merely whelm us. Alexander Stoklosa, Car and Driver, 26 July 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'whelm.' 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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of whelm was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near whelm

Cite this Entry

“Whelm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whelm. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


ˈhwelm How to pronounce whelm (audio)

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