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[gruhv-uhl, grov-]
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verb (used without object), grov·eled, grov·el·ing or (especially British) grov·elled, grov·el·ling.
  1. to humble oneself or act in an abject manner, as in great fear or utter servility.
  2. to lie or crawl with the face downward and the body prostrate, especially in abject humility, fear, etc.
  3. to take pleasure in mean or base things.
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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 formsgrov·el·er; especially British, grov·el·ler, noungrov·el·ing·ly; especially British, grov·el·ling·ly, adverbun·grov·el·ing, adjectiveun·grov·el·ling, adjective
Can be confusedgavel gravel grovel


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


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.


    Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson

  • He will paint her as Circe, mocking at her grovelling herd of swine!

British Dictionary definitions for grovelling


verb -els, -elling or -elled or US -els, -eling or -eled (intr)
  1. to humble or abase oneself, as in making apologies or showing respect
  2. to lie or crawl face downwards, as in fear or humility
  3. (often foll by in) to indulge or take pleasure (in sensuality or vice)
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Derived Formsgroveller, noungrovelling, noun, adjectivegrovellingly, 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 -ling ²
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

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper