Words nearby overwhelm
OVERWHELM VS. UNDERWHELM
What’s the difference between overwhelm and underwhelm?
The over- in overwhelm means “too much” and the under- in underwhelm essentially means “too little,” and the two words can be direct opposites, but they’re usually used in different contexts.
Overwhelm most commonly means to cause to be overcome with emotion as a result of an amount of something (work, stress, etc.) that’s just too much to handle. (It can also mean to overpower or physically cover beneath a mass of something). Underwhelm means to fail to impress, especially when that is the expectation.
Both words are often used in adjective forms: overwhelmed (overcome to the point of not being able to manage), overwhelming (describing something that leads to feeling overwhelmed), underwhelmed (unimpressed or disappointed), and underwhelming (unimpressive or disappointing).
Being overwhelmed isn’t always about stress or other negative emotions. You could be overwhelmed by a friend’s generosity or the birth of a child. Still, it’s usually about feeling a lot. In this way, underwhelm can be the opposite of overwhelm in some situations. For example, the same concert may overwhelm one person (perhaps it’s the first concert they’ve ever attended) but underwhelm someone else (maybe because it doesn’t meet their high expectations).
And, yes, whelm is a word. It can mean the same thing as overwhelm, but it’s very rarely used.
Here’s an example of overwhelm and underwhelm used correctly in the same sentence.
Example: I never want to underwhelm the fans, and sometimes that pressure can overwhelm me, but it all goes away when I walk on stage.
Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between overwhelm and underwhelm.
Quiz yourself on overwhelm vs. underwhelm!
Should overwhelm or underwhelm be used in the following sentence?
I thought taking six classes in one semester would _____ me with work, but I’ve been able to keep up pretty easily.
How to use overwhelm in a sentence
This could help groups deal with those whose behavior is often flagged, but it could also overwhelm groups with a large number of users.Facebook tries to clean up Groups with new policies|Sarah Perez|September 17, 2020|TechCrunch
The uptick in mail votes threatens to overwhelm the cash-strapped Postal Service, which recently warned that some state absentee ballot deadlines may not allow for enough time for ballots to be delivered and counted.ProPublica’s Pandemic Guide to Making Sure Your Vote Counts|by Susie Armitage|September 16, 2020|ProPublica
Two years ago, the left badly underestimated what it would take to beat Carper, as a surge of suburban turnout overwhelmed Harris's 29,406 votes — thousands more than her campaign thought she needed.The Trailer: The First State goes last|David Weigel|September 15, 2020|Washington Post
As outbreaks overwhelmed hospitals in April, pressure from local public officials grew, leading to the rapid-fire closures of some of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses.Emails Show the Meatpacking Industry Drafted an Executive Order to Keep Plants Open|by Michael Grabell and Bernice Yeung|September 14, 2020|ProPublica
Once they make their way in, these hues, with their longer wavelengths, overwhelm the sky.How raging wildfires create a hellish red sky|Sara Kiley Watson|September 10, 2020|Popular-Science
That was the last time the band allowed tepid performances and overwrought production overwhelm an otherwise solid set of songs.U2 Generously Gives Us a Lousy Album, Sucks at the Corporate Teat|Hampton Stevens|September 13, 2014|DAILY BEAST
He used his strength to overwhelm defenders but he also had nifty footwork, soft hands, and was a beautiful passer.Shaq, Year One|Charles P. Pierce|May 24, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Everywhere around you and inside you are possibilities you must always keep open, yet never let overwhelm you.Big Business Bullies Americans into the Machinery of Common Core|James Poulos|March 20, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Like all barbiturates, it can overwhelm alertness to the point of stopping the urge to breathe.The Death Penalty’s Gruesome Truth|Kent Sepkowitz|February 6, 2014|DAILY BEAST
On the negative side, the sheer tonnage of opinions can overwhelm and cause a degree of amnesia.The Best Columns of the Year|John Avlon|December 31, 2013|DAILY BEAST
Not infrequently these occasional waves are great enough to overwhelm persons who are upon the rocks next the shore.Outlines of the Earth's History|Nathaniel Southgate Shaler
Will its shadow so overwhelm the rest that her naturally pure spirit will shrink from me just at the moment when I think her mine?The Circular Study|Anna Katharine Green
Perhaps it is always thus when circumstances arise which overwhelm the human being.Catherine de' Medici|Honore de Balzac
As Michael mentally repeated the thunderous English line, a surge of melancholy caught him up to overwhelm his thoughts.Sinister Street, vol. 1|Compton Mackenzie
It swept down on the Three Sisters as if seeking to overwhelm them.Frank Merriwell's Pursuit|Burt L. Standish