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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).


  • IPA(key): /ɪnˈkʌmbənt/
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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.
    • 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:
      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 1051505315:
      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.
  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.



  1. ^ 1857, Asa Gray, First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology

See also[edit]




  1. third-person plural future active indicative of incumbō