OTHER WORDS FROM overwhelmingo·ver·whelm·ing·ly, adverbo·ver·whelm·ing·ness, noun
Words nearby overwhelming
OVERWHELMING VS. UNDERWHELMING
What’s the difference between overwhelming and underwhelming?
The over- in overwhelming means “too much” and the under- in underwhelming essentially means “too little,” and the two words can be direct opposites, but they’re usually used in different contexts.
The verb 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. Something that’s overwhelming causes you to be overcome in this way. Underwhelm means to fail to impress, especially when that is the expectation. Underwhelming, then, means unimpressive or disappointing.
Both words also have other adjective forms: overwhelmed (overcome to the point of not being able to manage) and underwhelmed (unimpressed or disappointed).
Things that are overwhelming don’t always involve stress or other negative emotions. A friend’s generosity or the birth of a child can be overwhelming. Still, it’s usually about feeling a lot. In this way, underwhelming can be the opposite of overwhelming in some situations. For example, the same concert may be overwhelming for one person (perhaps it’s the first concert they’ve ever attended) but underwhelming for 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 overwhelming and underwhelming used correctly in the same sentence.
Example: It was a bad dining experience—the noise in the restaurant was overwhelming and the food was underwhelming.
Want to learn more? Read the breakdown of the difference between overwhelm and underwhelm.
Quiz yourself on overwhelming vs. underwhelming!
Should overwhelming or underwhelming be used in the following sentence?
I thought taking six classes in one semester would be _____, but I’ve been able to keep up pretty easily.
How to use overwhelming in a sentence
These sky-high stakes make it clear that the first clinical rollouts of human genome editing need overwhelming justification.A CRISPR Baby Future? New Report Outlines Path to Human Germline Editing|Shelly Fan|September 15, 2020|Singularity Hub
In the mid-1990s, few anticipated the overwhelming pervasiveness of today’s social-media behemoths—or the volume and variety of deleterious material they would spread.Why the most controversial US internet law is worth saving|Amy Nordrum|September 9, 2020|MIT Technology Review
Significant majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents recognize access to high-quality, affordable childcare as an important issue, with overwhelming support among men and women and across major racial and ethnic categories.Millennials and Gen Zers need better childcare. Can either Biden or Trump deliver?|matthewheimer|August 29, 2020|Fortune
What we have seen over the last few months, and most recently with the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake, is overwhelming.WNBA players and Naomi Osaka go on strike for Jacob Blake|Claire Zillman, reporter|August 27, 2020|Fortune
Planning a wedding can be overwhelming, she says, and the pandemic makes it that much worse.How to turn down a wedding invitation during the coronavirus pandemic|Brooke Henderson|August 23, 2020|Fortune
Dean Teresa A. Sullivan praised the “overwhelming response by this community to condemn the evil acts” reported by Rolling Stone.Why It Was Right to Question Rolling Stone’s U-VA Rape Story|Michael Moynihan|December 5, 2014|DAILY BEAST
An overwhelming amount of subtleties and implications were going over my head.
There was no assassin but despite the overwhelming presence of troops and FBI agents, violent incidents still occurred.Honoring The Late John Doar, A Nearly Forgotten Hero Of The Civil Rights Era|Gary May|November 15, 2014|DAILY BEAST
An overwhelming majority of yes votes—89 of them—came from Republican men.
Even in deep red, rural states, universal background checks enjoy overwhelming support.One of the Midterms’ Little-Noticed Big Losers: The NRA|Cliff Schecter|November 10, 2014|DAILY BEAST
The contrast between the open street and the enclosed stuffiness of the dim and crowded interior was overwhelming.Hilda Lessways|Arnold Bennett
Thus it was that he himself created the morale which enabled him again and again to conquer against overwhelming odds.
So long as Christians have an overwhelming majority who will not touch the drains, diphtheria must continue.God and my Neighbour|Robert Blatchford
Blake and Cuesta were each defeated by an overwhelming combination of the different French armies.
The 1851 State Constitution was ratified by the voters by an overwhelming majority at the next election.Hallowed Heritage: The Life of Virginia|Dorothy M. Torpey