de·​spair | \ di-ˈsper How to pronounce despair (audio) \

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

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Verb

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Examples of despair in a Sentence

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
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun That said, this season of late has offered glimmerings of something less than despair. Michael Powell, New York Times, "The Knicks Were 0-for-Los Angeles, but There May Be Signs of Hope," 8 Jan. 2020 Anger and despair were etched onto Youssouf’s face in equal measure. Tommy Trenchard, Harper's magazine, "Oceans Apart," 6 Jan. 2020 And over the past nine years as the chaplain in Denver’s jails, Cannon has wheeled a cart of Bibles through the corridors of Denver’s jails hoping to save others from the same feeling of despair that once threatened his life. Elise Schmelzer, The Denver Post, "A light in darkness: Longtime Denver deputy turned jail chaplain reflects on 30 years of service," 29 Dec. 2019 Sometimes these sentiments come across as resentment and despair about modern London, which has changed staggeringly since the migrants left it for Thetford, becoming both richer and less white. The Economist, "The Cockneys of Thetford," 18 Dec. 2019 Show us a fight to communicate in the face of illness and despair. Kerry Elson Kiki O’keeffe Ysabel Yates, The New Yorker, "An Editor’s Feedback on Your Out-Sick E-mail," 17 Dec. 2019 The engineer and conductor, having seen the terror or despair on the victim’s face, are often grief-stricken, detectives report. Terry Spencer,, "Brightline high-speed train has highest U.S. death rate," 2 Dec. 2019 The engineer and conductor, having seen the terror or despair on the victim’s face, are often grief-stricken, detectives report. Terry Spencer,, "New higher-speed Florida train has the highest death rate in the nation. Most of the deaths have been suicides.," 2 Dec. 2019 The children, most of them with disabilities, begged to be let out, cried for their parents, expressed despair. Jennifer Smith Richards, ProPublica, "Readers Choked Back Tears. Some Struggled to Keep Reading. We Understand.," 22 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Fans of the epic fantasy series shouldn’t despair, though: HBO quickly green-lit 10 episodes of another prequel based on the Targaryens, House of Dragons. Michele Corriston,, "Euphoria Season 2, Succession Season 3 and Barry Season 3 Are Coming to HBO in 2020," 17 Dec. 2019 There's a dark, despairing read of this film, but there's a more triumphant one too, in which victimhood is gradually replaced by a hard-scrabble heroism. Isaac Feldberg, Fortune, "What to Watch (and Skip) in Theaters and on Netflix This Weekend," 27 Dec. 2019 One despairing prisoner committed suicide by jumping from a window. Adam Hochschild, The New Yorker, "When America Tried to Deport Its Radicals," 4 Nov. 2019 In the past, Republican presidents sought to slow the progressive transformation of America but despaired of ever stopping it. Victor Davis Hanson, The Mercury News, "Hanson: Trump’s fighting — and winning — a culture war on all fronts," 19 Sep. 2019 The ecosystem collapses, and while humanity despairs, a few bright scientists hatch a plan to save the day. Smithsonian, "Can Eating Sea Urchins Help Revive Kelp Forests?," 21 Sep. 2019 Cruelty seems to be the only point, except that somewhere, there are cartoon oligarchs making money off the whole scheme while families despair. Washington Post, "Dystopian authors reflect on our dystopian border," 14 July 2019 This Molly doll and this Samantha sold for just under $3,000 each. Don't despair if your doll lacks a signature, though; one unsigned Samantha from 1986 still commanded $1,640—and that's despite the fact that one of her eyes sticks a little. Emma Bazilian, House Beautiful, "Your Old American Girl Dolls Could Be Worth Thousands of Dollars," 27 Oct. 2019 The despairing young man, Kim Ki-woo, lives in the tiny semi-basement apartment, which yields a ground-level view of the street from a ceiling-high window. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "How “Parasite” Falls Short of Greatness," 14 Oct. 2019

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 entry 1

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Time Traveler for despair

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for despair

Last Updated

23 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Despair.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 28 January 2020.

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More Definitions for despair


How to pronounce despair (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of despair

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the feeling of no longer having any hope
: someone or something that causes extreme sadness or worry



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

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


de·​spair | \ di-ˈsper How to pronounce despair (audio) \
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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for despair

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with despair

Spanish Central: Translation of despair

Nglish: Translation of despair for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of despair for Arabic Speakers

Comments on despair

What made you want to look up despair? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


showing steady, earnest care and effort

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