adjective des·per·ate \ ˈdes-p(ə-)rət , -pərt \
|Updated on: 16 Jun 2018

Definition of desperate

1 a : having lost hope
  • a desperate spirit crying for relief
b : giving no ground for hope
  • the outlook was desperate
2 a : moved by despair or utter loss of hope
  • victims made desperate by abuse
b : involving or employing extreme measures in an attempt to escape defeat or frustration
  • made a desperate leap for the rope
3 : suffering extreme need or anxiety
  • desperate for money
  • desperate to escape
  • celebrities desperate for attention
4 : involving extreme danger or possible disaster
  • a desperate situation
5 : of extreme intensity
  • … a desperate languor descended heavily upon her, and she slept …
  • —Elinor Wylie



Examples of desperate in a Sentence

  1. The collapse of her business had made her desperate.

  2. As the supply of food ran out, people became desperate.

  3. We could hear their desperate cries for help.

  4. a desperate struggle to defeat the enemy

  5. He made a desperate bid to save his job.

  6. They made one last desperate attempt to fight their way out.

Recent Examples of desperate from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of desperate

Latin desperatus, past participle of desperare — see 2despair

Synonym Discussion of desperate

despondent, despairing, desperate, hopeless mean having lost all or nearly all hope. despondent implies a deep dejection arising from a conviction of the uselessness of further effort.
    • despondent about yet another rejection
despairing suggests the slipping away of all hope and often despondency.
    • despairing appeals for the return of the kidnapped child
desperate implies despair that prompts reckless action or violence in the face of defeat or frustration.
    • one last desperate attempt to turn the tide of battle
hopeless suggests despair and the cessation of effort or resistance and often implies acceptance or resignation.
    • the situation of the trapped miners is hopeless

DESPERATE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of desperate for English Language Learners

  • : very sad and upset because of having little or no hope : feeling or showing despair

  • : very bad or difficult to deal with

  • : done with all of your strength or energy and with little hope of succeeding

DESPERATE Defined for Kids


adjective des·per·ate \ ˈde-spə-rət , -sprət \

Definition of desperate for Students

1 : very sad and worried and with little or no hope
  • People became desperate for food.
2 : showing great worry and loss of hope
  • a desperate call for help
3 : giving little reason to hope : causing despair
  • a desperate situation
4 : reckless because of despair : rash
  • He made a desperate attempt to escape.
5 : very severe
  • The injury is in desperate need of attention.

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to emit the high shrill tone of bagpipes

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