[in-kuhm-buh nt]


holding an indicated position, role, office, etc., currently: the incumbent officers of the club.
obligatory (often followed by on or upon): a duty incumbent upon me.
Archaic. resting, lying, leaning, or pressing on something: incumbent upon the cool grass.


the holder of an office: The incumbent was challenged by a fusion candidate.
British. a person who holds an ecclesiastical benefice.

Origin of incumbent

1375–1425; late Middle English (noun) < Latin incumbent- (stem of incumbēns present participle of incumbere to lie or lean upon, equivalent to in- in-2 + cumb- (nasalized variant of cub- sit, lie; see incubus) + -ent- -ent
Related formsin·cum·bent·ly, adverban·ti-in·cum·bent, adjective, nounnon·in·cum·bent, noun, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for incumbent

occupant, necessary, binding, official, compelling, urgent

Examples from the Web for incumbent

Contemporary Examples of incumbent

  • Twelve incumbent governors who publicly support Common Core easily won re-election.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Why Voters Love Common Core

    Harold Ford Jr.

    November 28, 2014

  • When Democratic incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson opted not to run again, Love won by several thousand votes in the 2014 midterms.

  • Actually, Brown lost the Senate race to Democrat incumbent Jean Shaheen because Scott once posed nude for Cosmo.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The GOP Senate: A New Utopia Dawns

    P. J. O’Rourke

    November 8, 2014

  • The Democratic incumbent was doing fine with local issues until her opponent used the ISIS beheadings to turn the tide.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Kay Hagan's North Carolina Crash

    Patricia Murphy

    November 5, 2014

  • In Illinois, embattled Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn lost his bid for re-election against Bruce Rauner.

    The Daily Beast logo
    GOP Shocks Democrats in Governor Races

    Ben Jacobs

    November 5, 2014

Historical Examples of incumbent

British Dictionary definitions for incumbent



formal (often postpositive and foll by on or upon and an infinitive) morally binding or necessary; obligatoryit is incumbent on me to attend
(usually postpositive and foll by on) resting or lying (on)


a person who holds an office, esp a clergyman holding a benefice
Derived Formsincumbently, adverb

Word Origin for incumbent

C16: from Latin incumbere to lie upon, devote one's attention to, from in- ² + -cumbere, related to Latin cubāre to lie down
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 incumbent

early 15c., "person holding a church position," from Medieval Latin incumbentem (nominative incumbens) "holder of a church position," noun use of present participle of incumbere "to obtain or possess," from Latin incumbere "recline on," figuratively "apply oneself to," from in- "on" (see in- (2)) + -cumbere "lie down," related to cubare "to lie" (see cubicle). Extended to holders of any office from 1670s.


1560s, in relation to duties or obligations, from Latin incumbentem (nominative incumbens), present participle of incumbere (see incumbent (n.)). The literal, physical sense is rare in English and first attested 1620s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

incumbent in Culture



One who holds a public office. By virtue of their experience in office, their exposure to the public, and their ability to raise campaign funds, incumbents usually have a significant advantage over opponents if they choose to run for reelection.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.