in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio) \

Essential Meaning of incumbent

: a person who holds a particular office or position Voters will have the chance to see the incumbent and her opponent in a series of three debates. Incumbents often have an advantage in elections.

Full Definition of incumbent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the holder of an office or ecclesiastical benefice
2 : one that occupies a particular position or place


in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio) \

Definition of incumbent (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : imposed as a duty : obligatory incumbent on us to take action
2 : having the status of an incumbent (see incumbent entry 1) the team's incumbent third baseman especially : occupying a specified office the incumbent mayor
3 : lying or resting on something else
4 : bent over so as to rest on or touch an underlying surface

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Synonyms & Antonyms for incumbent

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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The Religious History of Incumbent


When incumbent was first used in English in the 15th century, it referred to someone who occupied a benefice—a paid position in a church. This was often a lifetime appointment; the person could only be forced to leave the office in the case of certain specific legal conflicts. In the mid-17th century, incumbent came to refer to anyone holding any office, including elected positions. These days, in the American political system, incumbent generally refers to someone who is the current holder of a position during an election to fill that position. Incumbent came to English through Anglo-French and derives from the Latin incumbere, meaning "to lie down on."

Examples of incumbent in a Sentence

Noun Because the statehouse now determines voting districts, the current map generally ensures that incumbents face minimal challenges to re-election. — Terry McCarthy, Time, 20 Dec. 2004 When Reagan and Clinton were seeking re-election, they didn't go after their opponents directly, in part because they didn't have to. Those incumbents knew that there's a point at which strong and tough can look weak and desperate. — Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, 9 Aug. 2004 Jane Austen was born into the downwardly mobile branch of an upper-middle-class family.  … None of the Austen children could inherit the family home from their father, a Church of England clergyman; after his death it would go to the next incumbent. — Kevin Barry, New York Times Book Review, 7 Dec. 1997 Voters will have the chance to see the incumbent and her opponent in a series of three debates. Incumbents often have an advantage in elections. Adjective It is incumbent upon the press to act not in its own best interests, but in society's best interests. — Carll Tucker, Saturday Review, 23 June 1979 … the various types of obligation incumbent on the members of the profession. — R. M. MacIver, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, January 1955 … Mr. Lorry felt it incumbent on him to speak a word or two of reassurance. — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859 it is incumbent upon you to attend every staff meeting
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun JP Progressives also called on Councilor Matt O’Malley, the incumbent in the seat who is not running for re-election, to withdraw his endorsement of Tamer., 17 Oct. 2021 Browne's seat in what mostly constituted his old district will have no incumbent in the April 2022 election, leaving a wide open race. Jim Riccioli, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 16 Oct. 2021 Mayor Greg Fischer cannot run for a fourth consecutive term in office, leaving the city's top job without an incumbent in the race for the first time in more than a decade. Darcy Costello, The Courier-Journal, 12 Oct. 2021 President Biden, arrived in the state with a message for California voters that keeping the incumbent in office was the most effective way to ensure a quick-as-possible end to the coronavirus pandemic. Washington Post, 13 Sep. 2021 Bell lost as an incumbent in the 2017 election to current Mayor Randall Woodfin. al, 20 Aug. 2021 Prosecutors say Rodriguez’s candidacy was part of a scheme to siphon votes away from the Democratic incumbent in the race, who shared his last name. Jason Garcia,, 19 Aug. 2021 In a spectacular upset, political newcomer India B. Walton defeated four-term incumbent in Buffalo’s Mayoral Democratic primary election on Tuesday. Rayna Reid, Essence, 24 June 2021 Trump doesn't like Ducey because the governor refused to publicly endorse the former President's wild theories about the credibility of the Arizona presidential results, where Joe Biden narrowly edged the incumbent in the state. Chris Cillizza, CNN, 24 June 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The map did not take into account a number of concerns, including the incumbent supervisors’ addresses and the dilution of Milwaukee's Black vote, which was met with opposition during the commission’s meeting on Wednesday. Vanessa Swales, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1 Oct. 2021 Other incumbent mayors last week pulled out first-place finishes, including Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who will face challenger Amy Mah Sangiolo in November., 21 Sep. 2021 In Hamden, Lauren Garrett defeated three-term incumbent mayor Curt B. Leng and 26-year-old Peter Cyr in a three-way race. Christopher Keating,, 15 Sep. 2021 In East Cleveland, incumbent Mayor Brandon L. King is challenged by Timothy R. Austin, Twon Billings, Juanita Gowdy and Korean Stevenson. Cameron Fields, cleveland, 14 Sep. 2021 The victorious incumbent mayors in Birmingham and Mayor raised over $1 million each, while their challengers trailed far behind. al, 5 Sep. 2021 The new department would no longer be under the sole command of the mayor’s office, which is significant given that incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey opposes abolishing the police department, while a majority of City Council members supports the idea. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 10 Aug. 2021 That meant that an incumbent mayor would not be on the ballot for the first time in 36 years, leading to several candidates entering the ring. Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press, 8 Aug. 2021 The incumbent mayor is not seen by anybody as vulnerable, to the point that the Republicans don’t even field a candidate against him. New York Times, 5 Aug. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'incumbent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of incumbent


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1567, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for incumbent

Noun and Adjective

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin incumbent-, incumbens, present participle of incumbere to lie down on, from in- + -cumbere to lie down; akin to cubare to lie

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Time Traveler for incumbent

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The first known use of incumbent was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

23 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Incumbent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for incumbent


in·​cum·​bent | \ in-ˈkəm-bənt How to pronounce incumbent (audio) \

Kids Definition of incumbent

: the holder of an office or position a reelected incumbent

More from Merriam-Webster on incumbent

Nglish: Translation of incumbent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of incumbent for Arabic Speakers


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