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[gruhv-uh l, grov-] /ˈgrʌv əl, ˈgrɒv-/
verb (used without object), groveled, groveling or (especially British) grovelled, grovelling.
to humble oneself or act in an abject manner, as in great fear or utter servility.
to lie or crawl with the face downward and the body prostrate, especially in abject humility, fear, etc.
to take pleasure in mean or base things.
Origin of grovel
1585-95; back formation from obsolete groveling (adv.), equivalent to obsolete grufe face down (< Old Norse ā grūfu face down) + -ling2, taken to be present participle
Related forms
groveler; especially British, groveller, noun
grovelingly; especially British, grovellingly, adverb
ungroveling, adjective
ungrovelling, adjective
Can be confused
gavel, gravel, grovel.
1. truckle, toady, fawn, kowtow, pander. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for grovelling
Historical Examples
  • Compare that moment of exaltation with the grovelling life of your Christians!

    Lotus Buds

    Amy Carmichael
  • With a sense of grovelling meanness, Philip sat and listened.

    The Manxman Hall Caine
  • He ended; and clung clasping our knees and grovelling at them.

  • Beggars display their stumps and their sores, grovelling on the ground like brutes.

    Appearances Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson
  • He will paint her as Circe, mocking at her grovelling herd of swine!

    Uncanny Tales Various
  • But she still clung to his knees, grovelling on the ground before him.

    Orley Farm

    Anthony Trollope
  • They were grovelling at his feet on the instant, and a driver behind me laughed.

    Gil the Gunner George Manville Fenn
  • Not that Ratcliffe had anything to do with all this underhand and grovelling intrigue.

  • This was not war, this ignominious crawling, this grovelling in the soil, this halting!

    War and the Weird Forbes Phillips
  • grovelling in the mud with the poor devils who cannot rise?'

    For Faith and Freedom Walter Besant
British Dictionary definitions for grovelling


verb (intransitive) -els, -elling, -elled (US) -els, -eling, -eled
to humble or abase oneself, as in making apologies or showing respect
to lie or crawl face downwards, as in fear or humility
(often foll by in) to indulge or take pleasure (in sensuality or vice)
Derived Forms
groveller, noun
grovelling, noun, adjective
grovellingly, adverb
Word Origin
C16: back formation from obsolete groveling (adv), from Middle English on grufe on the face, of Scandinavian origin; compare Old Norse ā grūfu, from grūfa prone position; see -ling²
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for grovelling



1590s, Shakespearian back-formation of groveling (Middle English), regarded as a present participle but really an adverb, from Old Norse grufe "prone" + obsolete adverbial suffix -ling (which survives also as the -long in headlong, sidelong); first element from Old Norse a grufu "on proneness." Perhaps related to creep. Related: Groveled; grovelled; groveling; grovelling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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