View synonyms for overwhelm


[ oh-ver-hwelm, -welm ]

verb (used with object)

  1. to overcome completely in mind or feeling:

    overwhelmed by remorse.

  2. to overpower or overcome, especially with superior forces; destroy; crush:

    Roman troops were overwhelmed by barbarians.

  3. to cover or bury beneath a mass of something, as floodwaters, debris, or an avalanche; submerge:

    Lava from erupting Vesuvius overwhelmed the city of Pompeii.

  4. to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything:

    a child overwhelmed with presents; to overwhelm someone with questions.

  5. to overthrow.


/ ˌəʊvəˈwɛlm /


  1. to overpower the thoughts, emotions, or senses of
  2. to overcome with irresistible force
  3. to overcome, as with a profusion or concentration of something
  4. to cover over or bury completely
  5. to weigh or rest upon overpoweringly
  6. archaic.
    to overturn

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Word History and Origins

Origin of overwhelm1

A Middle English word dating back to 1300–50; over-, whelm

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Example Sentences

This could help groups deal with those whose behavior is often flagged, but it could also overwhelm groups with a large number of users.

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.

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.

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.

Once they make their way in, these hues, with their longer wavelengths, overwhelm the sky.

That was the last time the band allowed tepid performances and overwrought production overwhelm an otherwise solid set of songs.

He used his strength to overwhelm defenders but he also had nifty footwork, soft hands, and was a beautiful passer.

Everywhere around you and inside you are possibilities you must always keep open, yet never let overwhelm you.

Like all barbiturates, it can overwhelm alertness to the point of stopping the urge to breathe.

On the negative side, the sheer tonnage of opinions can overwhelm and cause a degree of amnesia.

Not infrequently these occasional waves are great enough to overwhelm persons who are upon the rocks next the shore.

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?

Perhaps it is always thus when circumstances arise which overwhelm the human being.

As Michael mentally repeated the thunderous English line, a surge of melancholy caught him up to overwhelm his thoughts.

It swept down on the Three Sisters as if seeking to overwhelm them.


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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.