over·​whelm | \ ˌō-vər-ˈ(h)welm How to pronounce overwhelm (audio) \
overwhelmed; overwhelming; overwhelms

Definition of overwhelm

transitive verb

1 : upset, overthrow The tornado overwhelmed many mobile homes.
2a : to cover over completely : submerge The city was overwhelmed by the flooding caused by the hurricane.
b : to overcome by superior force or numbers The city was overwhelmed by the invading army.
c : to overpower in thought or feeling overwhelmed with grief overwhelmed by terror A sense of inadequacy overwhelmed me. overwhelmed with guilt

Did you know?

You could say that the introduction of overwhelm to the English language was a bit redundant. The word, which originally meant "to overturn or upset," was formed in Middle English by combining the prefix over- with the verb whelmen, which also meant "to overturn." Whelmen has survived in English as whelm, a verb which is largely synonymous with overwhelm. Since their appearance in the 14th century, however, overwhelm has won over English speakers who have come to largely prefer it to whelm, despite the latter's brevity. Perhaps the emphatic redundancy of overwhelm makes it seem like the more fitting word for describing the experience of being overcome by powerful forces or feelings.

Examples of overwhelm in a Sentence

Don't overwhelm him with facts. They were overwhelmed with work. The city was overwhelmed by the invading army.
Recent Examples on the Web However, the challenge faced by companies in the prioritization stage is the volume of apps discovered and the time-consuming process of evaluating each app, which has the potential to overwhelm security teams. Lior Yaari, Forbes, 17 June 2022 Wall Street is back in the claws of a bear market as worries about inflation and higher interest rates overwhelm investors. Stan Choe And Alex Veiga, The Christian Science Monitor, 14 June 2022 Eventually solid waste began to overwhelm various parts of the system, leading to the state takeover. Christine Condon, Washington Post, 11 June 2022 Eventually solid waste began to overwhelm various parts of the system, leading up to the state takeover. Christine Condon, Baltimore Sun, 9 June 2022 But soaring fuel prices, a weakening currency, and peak summer demand have conspired to overwhelm Pakistan energy suppliers. Eamon Barrett, Fortune, 8 June 2022 Other officers around the building recall hearing Officer Edwards on the radio calling for help — one of the first signs that day that the mob violence was beginning to overwhelm the police. New York Times, 6 June 2022 His always immaculate appearance, bedazzled in diamonds and cowboy flourishes, was designed to overwhelm observers. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, 5 June 2022 China has built its military to be able to overwhelm Taiwan’s defenses with an amphibious and aerial invasion. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 23 May 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of overwhelm

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for overwhelm

Middle English, from over entry 1 + whelmen to turn over, cover up

Learn More About overwhelm

Time Traveler for overwhelm

Time Traveler

The first known use of overwhelm was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near overwhelm




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for overwhelm

Last Updated

22 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Overwhelm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/overwhelm. Accessed 27 Jun. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for overwhelm


over·​whelm | \ ˌō-vər-ˈhwelm How to pronounce overwhelm (audio) , -ˈwelm \
overwhelmed; overwhelming

Kids Definition of overwhelm

1 : to overcome completely (as with great force or emotion) The larger army overwhelmed the troops. She was overwhelmed with grief.
2 : to cover over completely : submerge Waves overwhelmed the small boat.

More from Merriam-Webster on overwhelm

Nglish: Translation of overwhelm for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of overwhelm for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Name That Food

  • a-light
  • Name these cookies!
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!