[oh-ver-hwel-ming, -wel-]


that overwhelms; overpowering: The temptation to despair may become overwhelming.
so great as to render resistance or opposition useless: an overwhelming majority.

Origin of overwhelming

First recorded in 1565–75; overwhelm + -ing2
Related formso·ver·whelm·ing·ly, adverbo·ver·whelm·ing·ness, noun


[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 overwhelming

Contemporary Examples of overwhelming

Historical Examples of overwhelming

  • Mr. Gladstone was returned again for Midlothian by an overwhelming majority.

    The Grand Old Man

    Richard B. Cook

  • Smitten to the heart by a sudden and overwhelming remorse, Hetty was speechless.

  • And what overwhelming success attends the efforts of the Jesuits!

  • The Mercutians will be back soon in overwhelming force, burning for revenge.

    Slaves of Mercury

    Nat Schachner

  • There were too many of the enemy, and overwhelming reinforcements could be expected any moment.

    Slaves of Mercury

    Nat Schachner

British Dictionary definitions for overwhelming



overpowering in effect, number, or force
Derived Formsoverwhelmingly, adverb


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 overwhelming



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