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

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
Recent Examples on the Web
To me, the right response to this revolution is not despair but adaptation and innovation. Ted Johnson, Deadline, 10 July 2024 From the despair and uncertainty of the early 1990s, the Clinton and Bush administrations constructed a new policy framework for the post–Cold War era. Judd Devermont, Foreign Affairs, 27 June 2024
However, if squash bugs have already invaded your garden, don’t despair. Lauren Landers, Better Homes & Gardens, 27 June 2024 FromSoftware/Bandai Namco A figure with long hair, despairing at the rather high temperatures amidst them. Kevin Purdy, Ars Technica, 21 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for despair 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'despair.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 15 Jul. 2024.

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

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