Adjective – Insurmountable
The word “surmount” came to us through French, ultimately from Latin, and you can almost see its Latin bits: super, meaning “over or above,” and mons, meaning “mountain.”
Literally speaking, to surmount something to is to climb to the top of it.
And figuratively speaking, to surmount something (like, to surmount a problem or a hurdle) is to rise above it, or to beat it: to deal with it successfully. Surmountable things can be beaten; they can be dealt with successfully.
Insurmountable things are the opposite: they’re so huge or so difficult that you can’t deal with them successfully.
Part of speech:
adjective: “an insurmountable problem,” “the challenge seemed insurmountable at first.”
The adverb is “insurmountably.”
For a noun, use “insurmountableness” or, my preference, “insurmountability.”
The opposite forms are “surmountable,” “surmountably,” and “surmountableness.” (Dictionaries don’t recognize “surmountability,” for reasons I can’t fathom!)
And you can simply use the verb “surmount,” which is the transitive kind, as in “They surmounted this challenge” and “They’re still surmounting this problem.”
how to use it:
If you find this word ugly, you’re not alone. According to one linguist, “insurmountable” is a “ghastly philological monster.” Okay, sure, it’s a mouthful.
But a mouthful is always great for emphasis! So pick “insurmountable” to describe the most daunting, most discouraging, most complex problems, challenges, and obstacles.
And usually it is a problem, a challenge, or an obstacle that we call insurmountable.
But we can also talk about insurmountable hurdles, barriers, pains, feelings, concerns, deficits, handicaps, conditions, damages, debts, costs, etc. “Her insurmountable nervousness,” “an insurmountable prejudice,” “this insurmountable level of scrutiny.”
And we even occasionally talk about insurmountable leads, edges, and advantages: those that our competitors (or enemies) can’t overcome; it’s like we’re standing atop a mountain, where they can’t reach us.
“I fell asleep listening to his slow, even breaths, his stubbornness finally melting away in the face of insurmountable fatigue.”
— John Green, Looking for Alaska, 2006
“Technology alone rarely confers an insurmountable military edge; tactics, organization, training, leadership, and other products of an effective bureaucracy are necessary to realize the full potential of new inventions.”
— Max Boot, War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World, 2006