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[bih-set-ing] /bɪˈsɛt ɪŋ/
constantly assailing or obsessing, as with temptation:
a besetting sin.
Origin of besetting
1540-50; beset + -ing2


[bih-set] /bɪˈsɛt/
verb (used with object), beset, besetting.
to attack on all sides; assail; harass:
to be beset by enemies; beset by difficulties.
to surround; hem in:
a village beset on all sides by dense forest.
to set or place upon; bestud:
a gold bracelet beset with jewels.
Nautical. to surround (a vessel) by ice, so that control of the helm is lost.
before 1000; Middle English besetten, Old English besettan. See be-, set
Related forms
besetment, noun
besetter, noun
prebeset, verb (used with object), prebeset, prebesetting.
unbeset, adjective
2. encircle, enclose, besiege, beleaguer. 3. stud, decorate, ornament. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for besetting
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • In the besetting fear that he was leaving Di to face something alone, Bobby had arrived.

    Miss Lulu Bett Zona Gale
  • This "rejoicing in iniquity" is the besetting sin of idle people.

    Practical Ethics William DeWitt Hyde
  • Now Beatrice, well as she knew Dante's propensity to love, knew as well that pride was even more of a besetting weakness of his.

  • The besetting temptation of the free lance is to pamper himself.

    If You Don't Write Fiction Charles Phelps Cushing
  • How well Miss Preston was aware of their besetting sins, and how shrewdly did she use them to their undoing.

    Caps and Capers Gabrielle E. Jackson
  • But his besetting sin was strong drink, and he had recently been drunk.

    A Circuit Rider's Wife Corra Harris
  • As if I did not know that curiosity is my besetting sin, without being reminded of it in that brutal way!

    A Lady of Rome F. Marion Crawford
  • He even had a besetting sin, and that besetting sin was pride.

    The Willoughby Captains Talbot Baines Reed
  • Alcala had been brought up in aristocratic seclusiveness, and his besetting sin was pride.

    The Spanish Cavalier Charlotte Maria Tucker
British Dictionary definitions for besetting


tempting, harassing, or assailing (esp in the phrase besetting sin)


verb (transitive) -sets, -setting, -set
(esp of dangers, temptations, or difficulties) to trouble or harass constantly
to surround or attack from all sides
(archaic) to cover with, esp with jewels
Derived Forms
besetter, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for besetting



Old English besettan "to put, place; own, keep; occupy, settle; cover, surround with, besiege," from Proto-Germanic *bisatjan (cf. Old Saxon bisettjan, Dutch bezetten, Old High German bisezzan, German besetzen, Gothic bisatjan); see be- + set (v.). The figurative sense also was in Old English. Related: Beset (past tense); besetting.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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