de·​spair | \ di-ˈsper \

Definition of despair 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : utter loss of hope a cry of despair gave up in despair
2 : a cause of hopelessness an incorrigible child is the despair of his parents


despaired; despairing; despairs

Definition of despair (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to lose all hope or confidence despair of winning

transitive verb

obsolete : to lose hope for

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Other Words from despair


despairer noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for despair

Synonyms: Noun

desperation, despond, despondence, despondency, forlornness, hopelessness

Synonyms: Verb


Antonyms: Noun

hope, hopefulness

Antonyms: Verb

brighten, cheer (up), perk (up)

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Examples of despair in a Sentence


On the occasion of Johnson's tercentenary, Martin (A Life of James Boswell) searches out the psychological elements covered up by Boswell and others: the immense insecurities, bouts of deep depression, corrosive self-doubt and, in his last days, despair for his very soul. Publishers Weekly, 21 July 2008 Players who'd been on the 2004 Olympic team joked about whether their two bronze medals equaled one silver. There was none of the despair or finger-pointing that followed the world championships in '02, when Team USA finished sixth. — Kelly Anderson, Sports Illustrated, 11 Sept. 2006 The people who try to save endangered species in Hawaii are immune to despair. They have to be, to keep doing what they do. — Lawrence Downes, New York Times, 19 Dec. 2004 His despair nearly drove him mad. I was overcome by despair at being unable to find them. She finally gave up in despair. The people were driven to despair by the horrors of war. This latest setback has brought her to the depths of despair.


It is possible that at this stage Caesar had not altogether despaired of a consensual solution to the difficulties facing the Republic. — Anthony Everitt, Cicero, (2001) 2003 Sometimes it is hard not to despair about relations between men and women in American society. They seem to have hit rock bottom. — Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, New Republic, 6 May 2002 Yet, until very recently, Alzheimer's was so poorly understood that scientists despaired of finding a treatment, much less a cure. — Ken Garber, Technology, March 2001 Things look bad now, but don't despair. we despaired when we saw how little time we had left to complete our project
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Increasing economic hardship has fueled frustrations in Gaza, along with wider despair across Palestinian territories amid moves by a U.S. administration seen as wholeheartedly on Israel’s side in the decades-old conflict. Loveday Morris, Washington Post, "Toll for Gaza protests rises to 59 as baby dies from tear gas, with more protests expected," 15 May 2018 On a night otherwise filled with despair, there was one small glimmer of a silver lining for Barcelona, as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta became the first two players to play 100 Champions League games together., "Lionel Messi & Andres Iniesta Make UEFA Champions League History Despite Harrowing Loss to Roma," 11 Apr. 2018 What should have been uttered in private counsel was forced out in public, overwhelming the king with shameful despair. Matthew Mehan, WSJ, "Compelled Political Speech Cuts Civic Friendship ‘Right in Two’," 9 Mar. 2018 Cohn's departure has been met with despair on Wall Street. Jack Holmes, Esquire, "Gary Cohn Risked So Much for Trump. What Did He Gain?," 7 Mar. 2018 Men also tend to respond with greater despair in the case of divorce or break-ups. Jennifer Wright, Harper's BAZAAR, "It's Time to Let Boys Be Girly," 3 Mar. 2018 King is often at his best when portraying people consumed by grief: the bargaining, the despair, and occasionally the willingness to pay any price to get a departed loved one back. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Deliciously spooky Pet Sematary trailer will give you the chills," 11 Oct. 2018 In a moment of despair and shock, DeMarcus Cousins flexed his creativity and called the Warriors. Rob Mahoney,, "Facing a Harsh Free-Agency Reality, DeMarcus Cousins Embraces the Absurd," 3 July 2018 Two of the world’s greatest players stand at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, representing the essence of despair and revival. Bruce Jenkins,, "Brazil’s win sweet redemption for Neymar, who finally scores," 22 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

If you're bummed about some of your favorite fall TV shows ending, don't despair too much: another one of your favorite series, a.k.a. Kayla Keegan, Good Housekeeping, "'American Idol' Will Change in Some Major Ways When the New Season Starts in 2019," 19 Nov. 2018 Authorities have been under pressure to free Ssentamu, who is challenging the long rule of Museveni by appealing to young people who despair over the lack of jobs and other opportunities. Rodney Muhumuza, The Seattle Times, "Ugandan pop star, government critic Bobi Wine free on bail," 27 Aug. 2018 Most had despaired of finding a liberal with backbone or a conservative with a heart. Larry Tye,, "An open letter to Joe Kennedy III: Here’s how to run for president," 29 May 2018 The store’s staff publicized the loss, but ultimately despaired of ever seeing the scooter again. Martin Weil, Washington Post, "Prized motor scooter, a store’s symbol of Italy, found after long absence," 4 Apr. 2018 This despairing 17-minute allegory from 1965 — the last film by Trnka, the Czech stop-motion animation pioneer — is a highlight among the 20 shorts and eight features in this series, the first complete retrospective of his work in the United States. Mike Hale, New York Times, "The Film Festivals of New York: A Tasting Menu," 4 Apr. 2018 Other prisoners despaired at not being included among those released, with one trying to kill himself by taking pills, according to witnesses. Maggie Michael,, "In Yemen, 46 detainees released from UAE-controlled prison," 4 July 2018 Griffith's involves the loss of his wife and daughter, while Howell despairs over his role in an accident at his former outpost that resulted in the deaths of six sailors. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Lighthouse': Film Review," 4 July 2018 What is crucial, Dr. New says, is making sure despairing doctors have access to treatment and therapy. Lucette Lagnado, WSJ, "Hospitals Address Widespread Doctor Burnout," 9 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'despair.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of despair


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for despair

Verb and Noun

Middle English despeiren, from Anglo-French desperer, from Latin desperare, from de- + sperare to hope; akin to Latin spes hope — more at speed

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Statistics for despair

Last Updated

9 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for despair

The first known use of despair was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for despair



English Language Learners Definition of despair

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to no longer have any hope or belief that a situation will improve or change



English Language Learners Definition of despair (Entry 2 of 2)

: the feeling of no longer having any hope

: someone or something that causes extreme sadness or worry


de·​spair | \ di-ˈsper \
despaired; despairing

Kids Definition of despair

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to give up or lose all hope or confidence She began to despair of ever finding her homework paper.



Kids Definition of despair (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : loss of hope : a feeling of complete hopelessness He finally gave up in despair.
2 : a cause of hopelessness

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More from Merriam-Webster on despair

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with despair

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for despair

Spanish Central: Translation of despair

Nglish: Translation of despair for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of despair for Arabic Speakers

Comments on despair

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