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From Middle English, from stem incumbent-, of Medieval Latin incumbēns (holder of a church position), from Latin present participle of incumbō (I lie down upon).



incumbent (comparative more incumbent, superlative most incumbent)

  1. Imposed on someone as an obligation, especially due to one's office.
    Proper behavior is incumbent on all holders of positions of trust.
    • (Can we date this quote by Sprat and provide title, author's full name, and other details?)
      All men, truly zealous, will perform those good works that are incumbent on all Christians.
  2. Lying; resting; reclining; recumbent.
    • (Can we date this quote by Sir H. Wotton and provide title, author's full name, and other details?)
      two incumbent figures, gracefully leaning upon it
    • 1705 (revised 1718), Joseph Addison, Remarks on Several Parts of Italy
      to move the incumbent load they try
  3. Prevalent, prevailing, predominant.
  4. (botany, geology) Resting on something else; in botany, said of anthers when lying on the inner side of the filament, or of cotyledons when the radicle lies against the back of one of them.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Gray to this entry?)
  5. (zoology) Bent downwards so that the ends touch, or rest on, something else.
    the incumbent toe of a bird
  6. Being the current holder of an office or a title.
    If the incumbent senator dies, he is replaced by a person appointed by the governor.

Derived terms[edit]



incumbent (plural incumbents)

  1. The current holder of an office, such as ecclesiastical benefice or an elected office.
    • 2012, The Economist, October 6, 2012 issue, The first presidential debate: Back in the centre, back in the game
      Mr Obama’s problems were partly structural. An incumbent must defend the realities and compromises of government, while a challenger is freer to promise the earth, details to follow. Mr Obama’s odd solution was to play both incumbent and challenger, jumping from a defence of his record to indignation at such ills as over-crowded classrooms and tax breaks for big oil companies.
  2. (business) A holder of a position as supplier to a market or market segment that allows the holder to earn above-normal profits.
    • 2012, The Economist, September 29 2012 issue, Schumpeter: Fixing the capitalist machine
      American capitalism is becoming like its European cousin: established firms with the scale and scope to deal with a growing thicket of regulations are doing well, but new companies are withering on the vine or selling themselves to incumbents.


See also[edit]




  1. third-person plural future active indicative of incumbō