1 of 2


de·​spair di-ˈsper How to pronounce despair (audio)
: utter loss of hope
a cry of despair
gave up in despair
: a cause of hopelessness
an incorrigible child is the despair of his parents


2 of 2


despaired; despairing; despairs

intransitive verb

: to lose all hope or confidence
despair of winning

transitive verb

obsolete : to lose hope for
despairer noun

Example Sentences

Noun 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. Verb 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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web
So begins the picaresque journey of this deeply endearing, often frustrating man who does his best to heal others even while nursing his own despair with opium. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 17 Jan. 2023 His memoir reveals the full extent of his despair at playing the royal understudy to William and his treatment by certain family members and the wider institution. Lauren Said-moorhouse, CNN, 10 Jan. 2023 It’s fueling a fascination with winning the lottery, which Americans hope will save them from their economic despair and help revive the middle class’s golden era. Chloe Berger, Fortune, 6 Jan. 2023 But coming together like this, sharing our despair, that’s got to count for something, right? Jeanette Marantosstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 8 Nov. 2022 Like a finger trap, these desires for remedy plunge the user only further into the technological murk and its associated despair. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 28 Oct. 2022 When one of them, Nezamuddin Nezami, known to friends as Nezam, asked for his help to get out, Mr. Mann chose to funnel his despair into action. Martin Kuz, The Christian Science Monitor, 12 Oct. 2022 In a flat, Ángeles keeps solemn company with her despair. John Hopewell, Variety, 17 Sep. 2022 Dorsey recalled that his friend and fellow chorus director Theodore Frye persuaded him to accept a dinner invitation, in the hope that getting Dorsey out of his empty apartment would relieve his despair, even if only for a couple of hours. Robert Marovich, WSJ, 10 Sep. 2022
Don't despair, left-handers who have just smeared the ink across your paper yet again. Elizabeth Preston, Discover Magazine, 31 Oct. 2013 If your tomato plant is already infected, don’t despair. Susan Brownstein, cleveland, 21 July 2022 That said, Geminis are deeply independent, and not likely to despair too much should a relationship end. Anna Kaufman, USA TODAY, 20 Oct. 2022 Analysts say that while prices are up compared with prior years, consumers need not despair completely. Allison Pohle, WSJ, 11 Aug. 2022 Critics and online pundits despair over the Jurassic World films as the nadir of modern blockbuster filmmaking (especially as Jurassic World opened just as Transformers had peaked), but audiences young and old show up and mostly have a good time. Scott Mendelson, Forbes, 10 June 2022 Well, New Yorkers will hopefully have to despair for only a little bit longer: The restaurant has drawn interest from a number of buyers, and hopefully the city will act quickly to fill the space. Tori Latham, Robb Report, 15 Aug. 2022 If a buyer is not in a financial position to fund the equity investment to the deal (the down payment), do not despair or give up. Richard Parker, Forbes, 10 July 2022 There are as many reading appetites as there are readers, so if your favorite book of 2022 doesn't make our list, don't despair. Lizz Schumer, Good Housekeeping, 24 May 2022 See More

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.

Word History



Middle English despeir, despair, borrowed from Anglo-French despeir, despoir, noun derivative of desperer (tonic stem despeir-) "to lose hope or confidence, despair entry 2"


Middle English despeiren, despairen, dispairen "to lose hope or confidence, be discouraged," borrowed from Anglo-French despeir-, tonic stem of desperer, going back to Latin dēspērāre "to give up as hopeless, despair of," from dē- de- + spērāre "to look forward to, hope for, hope (that)," verbal derivative of *spēs-, presumed alternate stem of spēs, spem "hope, expectation" perhaps by analogy with vīr-, vīs "strength, force" — more at speed entry 1

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

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

Dictionary Entries Near despair

Cite this Entry

“Despair.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
de·​spair di-ˈspa(ə)r How to pronounce despair (audio)
: to lose all hope or confidence
despair of winning


2 of 2 noun
: utter loss of hope : feeling of complete hopelessness
: a cause of hopelessness

More from Merriam-Webster on despair

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
Name That Thing

You know what it looks like… but what is it called?

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?