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

Do you know the definition of somber? This guide will give you all of the information you need on the word somber, including its meaning, usage, origin, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word somber mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, Vocabulary, and other dictionary apps, the word somber, pronounced “ˈsɑmbər” has a multitude of different meanings, all of which relate to darkness both figurative and literal. The first definition of somber means dark and gloomy. This could be used to describe weather, like a somber, cloudy day. The second definition is more figurative. Somber can be used to describe something serious, dismal, or gloomy. For example, one might share somber news that someone has passed away. Finally, the word somber can also mean dark colored. For example, one might say the bags under their eyes are somber if they are dark purple.

The word somber can also be spelled sombre, though this is less common. Somber is an adjective, but also has the variants somberly, which is an adverb, and somberness, which is a noun.

What is the etymology of the word somber?

According to Etymonline, the word somber has been in use since 1760 to mean gloomy or shadowy. Earlier, around 1730, the word used was sombrous. Both of these words come from the Old French sombre, which means dark and gloomy. Sombre comes from the Late Latin subumbrāre or Late Latin sub umbrā meaning “to shadow,” which is made up of the prefix sub meaning “under” and umbra meaning “shadow or shadow.” People speculate that this might be from a suffixed form of andho, which means blind or dark. This is not to be confused with the similar French word sombrer, which means “sink,” per Google Translate.

What are synonyms and antonyms to the word somber?

There are many different words one can use to describe something that is somber. For this, one can use a synonym. If one is telling a somber story but want to avoid repeating themselves, they can use different synonyms. Synonyms are also a great way to expand one’s vocabulary. The list of synonyms for the word somber is below, from Thesaurus.

  • grim
  • melancholy
  • sedate
  • dreary
  • weighty
  • grave
  • joyless
  • earnest
  • shadowy
  • shady
  • dismal
  • murky
  • blue
  • solemn
  • black
  • sad
  • dragged
  • hurting
  • funereal
  • no-nonsense
  • obscure
  • staid
  • mournful
  • dark
  • drab
  • dim
  • dispiriting
  • cloudy
  • depressive
  • serious
  • gloomy
  • dire
  • sober
  • depressing
  • doleful
  • bleak
  • lugubrious
  • sourpuss
  • sepulchral
  • dingy
  • tenebrous
  • dull
  • down
  • caliginous
  • dusky

If one wanted to describe something that is the opposite of something that is somber, they would use an antonym. An antonym is a word that means the opposite of a word or phrase. The list of below antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • enlivening
  • snappy
  • up
  • sprightly
  • jaunty
  • chipper
  • bouncy
  • in high spirits
  • glad
  • hearty
  • bright
  • good-humored
  • jocund
  • sunny side up
  • vivacious
  • airy
  • bucked
  • sanguine
  • roseate
  • gay
  • in good spirits
  • gladsome
  • hilarious
  • contented
  • high
  • upbeat
  • cheerful
  • effervescent
  • sparkling
  • rosy
  • pleasant
  • joyful
  • blithe
  • jolly
  • good-natured
  • zippy
  • zingy
  • cheery
  • zappy
  • chirpy
  • lively
  • peppy
  • merry
  • lighthearted
  • optimistic
  • full of pep
  • hopeful
  • enthusiastic
  • buoyant
  • sunny
  • animated
  • perky
  • winsome

How can the word somber be used in a sentence?

Since the word somber has three different meanings, this means that the word can be used in three different contexts. Below are a few examples of the way that the word somber can be used in a sentence. In this first example, the word somber will be used to mean gloomy or dull. In this example, Mark and Kim are planning a picnic for their anniversary. They look out the window the morning of the picnic.

Mark: Oh, no.

Kim: What’s wrong. 

Mark: It’s so somber outside, it looks like it’s going to pour. The picnic is going to be ruined.

Kim: It’s alright, Mark! Why don’t we make a blanket fort inside? We can set up the picnic in there, watch a movie, and take a nap while we listen to the rain.

Mark: That sounds perfect.

Here, Mark uses the word somber to describe the gloomy weather that awaits them that day, and uses it as a reason why they should not have a picnic outside. In this next example, the word somber will be used to mean grave, serious, or dismal. In this example, Mark has to tell Kim that he is getting laid off.

Kim: Welcome home, honey!

Mark: Hi.

Kim: What’s the matter? Why the somber mood?

Mark: They just let us know that they’re laying off all of the employees in the facilities department and are permanently transitioning the company to be remote. My last day is next Friday.

Kim: Oh, dear, I’m so sorry. Don’t worry, you are so talented and experienced, we will find you a new job in no time.

Here, Kim uses the word somber to describe Mark’s somber expression as he enters the door; that is how she knows there is something wrong. In this final example, the word somber will be used to mean dull or dark colored. In this example, Kim is trying her hand at dying some old clothing.

Mark: Whatcha doing?

Kim: Dying some old pants I never wear. I saw it on the internet.

Mark: Cool!

Kim: Yeah, it was supposed to be a nice chocolate brown but it looks a bit more like a dull somber black. I feel like I’m going to look like I should be playing an orphan in a production of Annie.

Here, Kim uses the word somber to describe the clothing she is trying to dye, comparing it to tattered dull clothing one might see on someone who is playing an orphan.

Overall, the word somber has a few different meanings, all of which relate to darkness or gloominess. The first definition of somber is dark and gloomy; this can be used to describe weather, most often. Second, the word somber can be used to mean serious, grave, or dismal. This is more commonly used to describe emotion, news, or feeling. Finally, the word somber can mean dark in color. This could be used to describe anything that has a color; for example, a somber gray couch.