The Meaning of Cumbersome: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of cumbersome? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word cumbersome, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word cumbersome mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Dictionary, the word cumbersome (pronounced ˈkʌmbərsəm) is an adjective that can either mean unwieldy due to heaviness, or bulk, or it can also mean burdensome or troublesome. The word cumbersome can be used to describe many different things. In a factory you might find a cumbersome piece of machinery. Cumbersome machines are often used to make very specific products in mass manufacturing. There might be a cumbersome system or cumbersome process implemented in a workplace that makes it difficult to get things done. More literally, one could try to carry cumbersome baggage through an airport with difficulty, or they might have to wear cumbrous protective clothing before doing a dangerous activity. Overall, the word cumbersome is a very versatile adjective and can be used to describe things that are both literally and figuratively burdensome or unwieldy. 

Words that mean the same thing as the word cumbersome also exist in many other languages. These are also used to mean hindering or burdensome. This list of translations for the word cumbersome is provided by Word Sense.

  • Spanish: pesado‎
  • Finnish: vaivalloinen‎, hankala‎
  • Turkish: külfetli‎
  • Dutch: hinderlijk‎, lastig‎, moeilijk‎, moeizaam‎, zwaar‎
  • Bulgarian: тежък‎, обременителен‎
  • French: encombrant‎
  • Russian: обремени́тельный‎, затрудни́тельный‎, тя́гостный‎
  • Maori: hīrawerawe‎
  • Portuguese: incómodo‎ (Portugal), incômodo‎ (Brazil)
  • Italian: ingombrante‎
  • Polish: uciążliwy‎ (masc.)
  • German: hinderlich, lästig‎, mühsam‎, beschwerlich‎

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word cumbersome?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word cumbersome. These are known as synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms are very useful to know if you want to expand your vocabulary or avoid repeating  yourself. This list of synonyms for the word cumbersome is provided by Thesaurus

  • clunker
  • burdensome
  • weighty
  • clumsy
  • incommodious
  • massive
  • oppressive
  • cumbrous
  • clunking
  • inconvenient
  • hefty
  • heavy
  • wearisome
  • unhandy
  • awkward
  • tiresome
  • leaden
  • clunky
  • embarrassing
  • unwieldy
  • galumphing
  • unmanageable
  • bulky
  • ponderous

There are also many different words that have the opposite meaning as the word cumbersome. These are known as antonyms. Antonyms are also very useful to know if you wish to expand your English vocabulary or knowledge of the English language. This list of antonyms for the word cumbersome is also provided by Thesaurus

  • moderate
  • deceivable
  • accommodating
  • unsuspicious
  • sympathetic
  • temperate
  • easy
  • flexible
  • gullible
  • susceptible
  • soft
  • unoppressive
  • unburdensome
  • submissive
  • pampering
  • benign
  • indulgent
  • kindly
  • liberal
  • fleeceable
  • deludable
  • exploitable
  • dupable
  • charitable
  • pardoning
  • forbearing
  • amenable
  • merciful
  • compassionate
  • excusing
  • lax
  • mild
  • biddable
  • trusting
  • clement
  • humoring
  • compliant
  • tractable
  • light
  • mollycoddling
  • easygoing
  • lenient
  • forgiving
  • spoiling
  • condoning
  • gentle
  • naive

How can the word cumbersome be used in a sentence?

The word cumbersome can either be used literally or figuratively to describe things that are bulky or unwieldy. In this first example, the term cumbersome will be used to describe something that is literally unwieldy and bulky. Amber and Jack are moving into a new apartment.

Amber: Jack, can you take the other side of this? It’s not heavy, just cumbersome. I feel like I’m going to drop it.

Jack: For sure! Yeah, this thing is really awkward to carry. Let’s take two trips and we can get the other bags on the next one.

Amber: Good idea.

In this next example, Jack is talking to one of his students who has just turned in a mediocre essay. 

Jack: Steven, come up here please.

Steven: What’s up Mr. J?

Jack: Steven, I know you can do better than this essay. I can tell that you ran out of time and were just trying to fill space with ideas. Your sentences are long and cumbersome, but they’re not really saying much. What happened?

Steven: Sorry Mr. J, I just ran out of time. I just tried to make an essay that sounded good.

Jack: Your thesis isn’t bad. If you want to improve your grade, you can turn in a revised version by next Friday at the latest.

What is the origin of the word cumbersome?

According to Etymonline, the word cumbersome has been used since the late 14th century to refer to things that are burdensome or troublesome. This word has been used to mean unwieldy or inconvenient since the 1590s. The related word cumberless, meaning free from care, is rare but has been used since the 1580s. Other related words include the adverb cumbersomely and the noun cumbersomeness. This word comes from the root cumber and the suffix -some. According to Etymonline, the word cumber is a verb that has been used since the year 1300. It was also written as cumbren and combren and used to mean to overthrow or destroy. This was likely a shortening of the word acombren which was used to mean obstructing progress. This comes from the Old French encombrer, which comes from the word combre meaning obstruction or barrier. These come from the Vulgar Latin comboros meaning that which is carried together. Related words include unencumbered, and cumbrousness.

Overall, the word cumbersome is an adjective that can be used to mean burdensome or unwieldy. This can be used in a literal sense to describe something like a heavy box someone is trying to carry up the stairs, or it can be used figuratively to describe something that is metaphorically bulky, like a cumbersome writing style. This is a very versatile, commonly used word in the English language.