hap·​less | \ ˈha-pləs How to pronounce hapless (audio) \

Definition of hapless

: having no luck : unfortunate tale of a hapless sailor hapless beings caught in the grip of forces we can do little about— W. H. Whyte

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Other Words from hapless

haplessly adverb
haplessness noun

Did You Know?

Hapless literally means what you'd expect it to mean: "without hap"-"hap" being another word for "fortune" or "luck." Hap derives from the Old Norse word for "good luck." ("Happen" and "happy" are also descendants of the same ancient root word.) English has several words to describe those lacking good fortune, including "ill-starred," "ill-fated," "unlucky," and "luckless," a word formed in parallel to "hapless" by adding the suffix -less. "Ill-starred" suggests bringing calamity or the threat of a terrible fate ("the ill-starred year the Great Depression began"). "Ill-fated" refers only to being doomed ("the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic"). "Luckless" and "unlucky" usually apply to a person or thing notably or chronically unfortunate ("the luckless investor lost all her money" and "an unlucky man who failed at everything he tried").

Examples of hapless in a Sentence

She plays the hapless heroine who is unlucky in love. the hapless motorist had barely paid his bill and driven away from the body shop when a truck sideswiped his car

Recent Examples on the Web

The photographs, posted on Facebook by Australian nonprofit GG Wildlife Rescue Inc., show the snake wrapping its body around the hapless croc, opening its elastic jaws and swallowing its prey whole. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "See a Python Swallow a Crocodile Whole," 12 July 2019 When the villainous snow leopard Tai Lung threatens Po's homeland, the hapless panda is chosen to fulfil an ancient prophecy and defend the Valley from attack. Houston Chronicle, "Outside the Megaplex: Here are the Houston arthouse movies showing July 5-11," 3 July 2019 Starting in January 2021, the yet-unnamed NBC service will be the exclusive home in the U.S. of all nine seasons of the sitcom, which follows the hapless employees of the Dunder Mifflin paper company. Washington Post, "‘The Office’ to leave Netflix as streaming battles heat up," 26 June 2019 Thailand looked increasingly hapless as the game – and goals – went on, and more than one player was in tears afterward. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Two weeks in at World Cup, USWNT among winners, while FIFA remains a huge loser," 21 June 2019 Three minutes later, Mallory Pugh carved apart the Thai defense, dribbled around a helpless and hapless Chor Charoenying, then ran toward the U.S. bench players and leaped into their arms. 11-nil. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: For U.S. women’s soccer team, problem is less the 13 goals than the 13 celebrations," 12 June 2019 Finally, some good news: pretty Franziska and hapless cutie Magnus are still together! Abbey Maxbauer, refinery29.com, "R29 Binge Club: Netflix's Dark Season 2 Recap," 25 June 2019 The camera-friendly, if hapless, Troncone also packs — at times overpacks — his portrait with Neapolitan color and background, forays into his shoestring existence over five-plus years of shooting, and lessons in the human condition. latimes.com, "Review: Documentaries ‘The Lavender Scare,’ ‘Ghost Fleet’ and more," 6 June 2019 Sandler, who can be a superb dramatic actor when given the right role, can’t do much with this lame hapless-hubby routine. Justin Chang, latimes.com, "Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston look for clues and laughs in a strained ‘Murder Mystery’," 14 June 2019

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

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for hapless

see hap entry 1

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Statistics for hapless

Last Updated

17 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for hapless

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

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More Definitions for hapless



English Language Learners Definition of hapless

somewhat formal + literary : having no luck : very unfortunate


hap·​less | \ ˈha-pləs How to pronounce hapless (audio) \

Kids Definition of hapless

: unfortunate sense 1 The hapless runner tripped during the race.

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More from Merriam-Webster on hapless

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with hapless

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for hapless

Spanish Central: Translation of hapless

Nglish: Translation of hapless for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of hapless for Arabic Speakers

Comments on hapless

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


something desired as essential

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