Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



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).


  • IPA(key): /ɪnˈkʌmbənt/
  • (file)
  • (file)


incumbent (comparative more incumbent, superlative most incumbent)

  1. (Used with "on" or "upon") Imposed on someone as an obligation, especially due to one's office.
    Proper behavior is incumbent on all holders of positions of trust.
    • December 22 1678, Thomas Sprat, A Sermon Preached before the King at White-Hall
      all men truly Zelous , will [] endeavor to perform the first kind of good Works alwaies; those, I mean, that are incumbent on all Christians
  2. Lying; resting; reclining; recumbent.
    • 1624, Henry Wotton, The Elements of Architecture, [], London: [] Iohn Bill, →OCLC:
      two incumbent figures, gracefully leaning upon it
    • 1705, J[oseph] Addison, Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, &c. in the Years 1701, 1702, 1703, London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC:
      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[1]
  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.
    • 2022 November 16, Philip Haigh, “Trans-Pennine... transformative”, in RAIL, number 970, page 43:
      Just as interest grew under previous incumbent-but-one Grant Shapps, so interest could wane under new Transport Secretary Mark Harper.
  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. ^ 1857, Asa Gray, First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology




  1. third-person plural future active indicative of incumbō