[oh-ver-hwelm, -welm]

verb (used with object)

to overcome completely in mind or feeling: overwhelmed by remorse.
to overpower or overcome, especially with superior forces; destroy; crush: Roman troops were overwhelmed by barbarians.
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.
to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything: a child overwhelmed with presents; to overwhelm someone with questions.
to overthrow.

Origin of overwhelm

Middle English word dating back to 1300–50; see origin at over-, whelm
Related formsun·o·ver·whelmed, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for overwhelm

Contemporary Examples of overwhelm

Historical Examples of overwhelm

  • As for Garson, once again the surge of feeling threatened to overwhelm his self-control.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • His intention was not to overwhelm his wife with bitter reproaches.

    The Secret Agent

    Joseph Conrad

  • Powerful tribes, like the Romans, Saxons and Normans, have tried to overwhelm them.

    Welsh Fairy Tales

    William Elliott Griffis

  • We should indeed survey and prepare for danger, but we should never suffer it to overwhelm us.


    William Godwin

  • The mud of those greasy streets had risen up all around to overwhelm him!

British Dictionary definitions for overwhelm


verb (tr)

to overpower the thoughts, emotions, or senses of
to overcome with irresistible force
to overcome, as with a profusion or concentration of something
to cover over or bury completely
to weigh or rest upon overpoweringly
archaic to overturn
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 overwhelm

early 14c., "to turn upside down, to overthrow," from over- + Middle English whelmen "to turn upside down" (see whelm). Meaning "to submerge completely" is mid-15c. Perhaps the connecting notion is a boat, etc., washed over, and overset, by a big wave. Figurative sense of "to bring to ruin" is attested from 1520s. Related: Overwhelmed; overwhelming; overwhelmingly.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper