We know that the verb inundate (a mostly formal verb,) means:

To overwhelm someone with things or people to be dealt with. For instance:

  • We've been inundated with complaints from listeners.
  • I'm inundated with lots of phone calls today.

But the question is that whether it would sound natural in a not formal case such as everyday normal speeches to say i.e:

  • (InT) I am inundated with lots of tasks.


  • (T) -- Yesterday, my boss inundated me with tons of tasks.

Do they sound normal and idiomatic in everyday speech? If not, please let me know that what shall I use instead?

Meanwhile, I doubt if the verb can be used in an active form and according to the definitions it seems that you usually use it in a passive form. Do you confirm it?

2 Answers 2


It seems to me the verb "inundate" is always transitive, never intransitive, in that it always takes an object. However, as you say, it's most often used as in the passive, as in your example, "We've been inundated with complaints from listeners," and not, "Complaints from listeners have inundated us".

As James K mentions, this use of "inundate" is a kind of hyperbole -- that is, exaggeration for effect. There's nothing wrong with hyperbole. People talk like this all the time, for example:

I can't go to lunch! I'm swamped with work.

The person doesn't mean, even figuratively, that she is "sinking fast" like a boat full of water. It's just a metaphor. You could replace "swamp" with "inundate"

I can't go to lunch! I'm inundated with work.

which is to say, it's like you've been flooded and are practically under water as a result.

"Inundate" is, of course, a water metaphor. You'd only use it where water metaphors makes sense. Moreover you have to consider your audience. It's a bit of a "fancy" word that many should know but may not feel comfortable using. In some cases it's fine, but in others it may sound like you are showing off.

Lastly, it's redundant to use "lots" with "inundate", as the word already implies a large amount.

I am inundated with tasks (that my boss gave me)

My boss inundated me with tasks.

  • Meanwhile @Andrew as you mentioned: It seems to me the verb "inundate" is always transitive, never intransitive, in that it always takes an object. But at the end you provided me with the two examples: I am inundated with tasks and My boss inundated me with tasks.! There is something missing here for me and I appreciate it if you could explain that to me.
    – A-friend
    May 7, 2019 at 5:38
  • 1
    @A-friend No, I mean the figurative use of the word for something that isn't actual water. A torrential rainstorm can literally inundate a city, but when you use the same verb for your workload, you're exaggerating.
    – Andrew
    May 7, 2019 at 5:48
  • 1
    @A-friend I think you might be confused about the difference between transitive/intransitive and active/passive. Intransitive verbs (like "arrive" or "sit") can't be passive because they don't take an object.
    – Andrew
    May 7, 2019 at 6:13
  • I see @Andrew; just I got confused for a second. Thank you very much for the great answer to thisvquestion.
    – A-friend
    May 7, 2019 at 6:26

Such expressions would be considered hyperbolic. This is deliberate exaggeration.

The sentences are correct but it might be better to use the synonym "overwhelm". "Overwhelm" is synonymous with "inundate" in the figurative meanings of "inundate" (not talking about water). "Overwhelm" could mean getting so much workload that you cannot deal with it. On the other hand "innundate" suggests "flooding" or a great amount of something, but possibly an amount that you can deal with.

I am overwhelmed by the number of tasks.

My boss has overwhelmed me with tasks.

What a great day! The ad went on the TV and we were inundated with phone calls. I'm tired but happy.

The verb "overwhelm" normally takes an object (the person who cannot cope) but it is quite common to use in a passive construction "I am overwhelmed (by ...)".

  • 1
    If someone said "we have been literally inundated" I would be looking for buckets and mops. May 5, 2019 at 8:02
  • Thank you @James K; but could it be possible to use both of the prepositions "be overwhelmed by / with something and to overwhelm someone **by / with sth"?
    – A-friend
    May 5, 2019 at 8:18
  • One more question @James K; don't you think that using "overwhelm" in this sense is something more of "making someone exhausted" while I was about giving sb tones of works and provide them with so much workload that they cannot deal with? Although most of the dictionaries's explanations approve your suggestion where they say i.e. If water overwhelms a place, it covers it suddenly and completely, but I have an intuition that is against this word. Because, they clarify that this is a literary usage, while I'm looking for something more natural in everyday speech.
    – A-friend
    May 7, 2019 at 7:35
  • I've edited. The subject of overwhelm is normally the person who is giving lots of tasks. This means that if you use "water" as the subject, you are using personification. This is why "Water overwhelms..." is a literary use. There is nothing very literary about "My boss overwhelms me". This isn't personification. "Overwhelm" doesn't mean tired, but "can't deal with it". It is better than "inundate" if you mean "can't deal with it."
    – James K
    May 7, 2019 at 8:01

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