adjective fu·tile \ ˈfyü-tᵊl , ˈfyü-ˌtī(-ə)l \
|Updated on: 15 Jul 2018

Definition of futile

1 : serving no useful purpose : completely ineffective
  • efforts to convince him were futile
2 : occupied with trifles : frivolous


play \ˈfyü-tᵊl-(l)ē, -ˌtī(-ə)l-lē\ adverb


play \ˈfyü-tᵊl-nəs, -ˌtī(-ə)l-nəs\ noun

Examples of futile in a Sentence

  1. In a digitized land of national ID cards, dropping out will be impossible, and dreaming about it will be futile. —Walter KirnAtlanticMay 2002
  2. After Redemption and disfranchisement destroyed black political influence, open challenges to white supremacy were futile and dangerous. —Adam FaircloughJournal of American HistoryJune 2000
  3. 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 EhrenreichHarper'sJanuary 1999
  4. In 1845 explorer Charles Sturt led an expedition through these parts on a futile search for an inland sea. —Thomas O'NeillNational GeographicApril 1997
  5. All our efforts proved futile.

  6. a futile and foolish gesture

Recent Examples of futile from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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 5found

Synonym Discussion of 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

FUTILE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of futile for English Language Learners

  • : having no result or effect : pointless or useless

FUTILE Defined for Kids


adjective fu·tile \ ˈfyü-tᵊl \

Definition of futile for Students

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



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to beat or defeat soundly

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