fu·tile | \ ˈfyü-tᵊl , ˈfyü-ˌtī(-ə)l \

Definition of futile 

1 : serving no useful purpose : completely ineffective efforts to convince him were futile

2 : occupied with trifles : frivolous

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Other words from futile

futilely \ˈfyü-tᵊl-(l)ē, -ˌtī(-ə)l-lē \ adverb
futileness \ˈfyü-tᵊl-nəs, -ˌtī(-ə)l-nəs \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for futile

futile, vain, fruitless mean producing no result. futile may connote completeness of failure or unwisdom of undertaking. resistance had proved so futile that surrender was the only choice left vain usually implies simple failure to achieve a desired result. a vain attempt to get the car started fruitless comes close to vain but often suggests long and arduous effort or severe disappointment. fruitless efforts to obtain a lasting peace

Examples of futile in a Sentence

In a digitized land of national ID cards, dropping out will be impossible, and dreaming about it will be futile. —Walter Kirn, Atlantic, May 2002 After Redemption and disfranchisement destroyed black political influence, open challenges to white supremacy were futile and dangerous. —Adam Fairclough, Journal of American History, June 2000 In some futile bid for gentility, the management has barred employees from using the front door, so my first day I enter through the kitchen … —Barbara Ehrenreich, Harper's, January 1999 In 1845 explorer Charles Sturt led an expedition through these parts on a futile search for an inland sea. —Thomas O'Neill, National Geographic, April 1997 All our efforts proved futile. a futile and foolish gesture
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Recent Examples on the Web

Belgium and England will square off in Saint Petersburg in what will be a futile exercise for both teams, neither of whom want anything to do with it. Martin Rogers, USA TODAY, "No one cares about the pointless World Cup bronze playoff. So FIFA should scrap it," 12 July 2018 Stopping crime can be dangerous, keeping government honest is time-consuming, and saving trees in Atlanta is almost futile. Bill Torpy, ajc, "Torpy at Large: Any excuse given for littering is garbage," 6 July 2018 Don’t Run Running from most animals — including coyotes, feral dogs and bears — is a futile exercise, Ms. Levin said. New York Times, "5 Simple Tips to Handle a Wild Animal Encounter on Vacation," 5 July 2018 Trying to control size by pruning is absolutely futile. Neil Sperry, star-telegram, "The crape myrtle: Facts on the finest flowering shrub in the south," 21 June 2018 Anticipating James’s next move comes down to faulty guesswork and is largely futile, and that reality makes the Cavaliers’ offseason all the more challenging. Ben Ladner, SI.com, "Cleveland Cavaliers Offseason Preview: Will LeBron James Stay or Go?," 10 June 2018 Part of the issue if Ryan left is that the turmoil in the conference, the war between moderates and conservatives and the likely futile outcome of any immigration debate would be political poison to anyone vying for a leadership role. Lauren Fox And Phil Mattingly, CNN, "Republicans rush to defend Ryan amid rebellion rumors," 22 May 2018 And lack of tangible progress, the sense that this has all happened before and will happen again, the resignation; that’s the cumulative effect of years of breaches and leaks and carelessness that make this all feel so futile. Brian Barrett, WIRED, "A Location-Sharing Disaster Shows How Exposed You Really Are," 19 May 2018 Within days, his Brits were in the cave and a search that most had given up as futile took an electrifying turn. Shibani Mahtani, Washington Post, "‘Time is running out’: Inside the treacherous rescue of boys trapped in a Thai cave," 13 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'futile.' 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 futile

circa 1555, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for futile

borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, borrowed from Latin fūtilis, futtilis "brittle, fragile (of containers), serving no purpose, pointless," perhaps (if original sense was "leaky") from fū- (going back to Indo-European *ǵheu̯- "pour, shed") + -tilis "obtained by, characterized by (the action of the verb)" — more at found entry 5

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Last Updated

9 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for futile

The first known use of futile was circa 1555

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English Language Learners Definition of futile

: having no result or effect : pointless or useless


fu·tile | \ ˈfyü-tᵊl \

Kids Definition of futile

: having no result or effect Their efforts to win were futile.

Other words from futile

futilely adverb

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Comments on futile

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


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