hap·​less ˈha-pləs How to pronounce hapless (audio)
: having no luck : unfortunate
tale of a hapless sailor
hapless beings caught in the grip of forces we can do little aboutW. H. Whyte
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," a word that is also the source of our happen and happy. 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"). Unlucky and luckless usually apply to a person or thing notably or chronically unfortunate ("an unlucky slots player," "some luckless investors swindled in the deal").

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 Just after the hour mark, Rodrygo ran deep from near the halfway line to fire the fourth past a hapless Paulo Gazzaniga. Tom Sanderson, Forbes, 10 Feb. 2024 To which hapless viewers can only respond: Take us with you. Ann Hornaday, San Diego Union-Tribune, 9 Feb. 2024 Most famously perhaps in 2012, in Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill poured millions into TV ads aimed at elevating her preferred opponent, the hapless Todd Aiken, in the Republican primary. Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times, 7 Feb. 2024 By maintaining this orientation, the hapless critters created odd orbits and steering patterns, according to the study. Taylor Nicioli, CNN, 7 Feb. 2024 Felipe Varela Whittier :: The hapless Chargers have hit a grand slam by hiring Jim Harbaugh. Los Angeles Times, 27 Jan. 2024 Today, the hapless infantry who still fill trenches and strongpoints across Ukraine are contending with the same unforgiving winter. Eric Schmidt, Foreign Affairs, 22 Jan. 2024 This season, readers can delve into new titles that feature a variety of sleuths: a hapless mystery writer; a group of very pregnant women; Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes’s partner in life and crime-solving; and more. Karen MacPherson, Washington Post, 21 Jan. 2024 The hapless heroine, Jenny Green, has been toiling away at her non-profit job in a non-coastal city while college classmates and peers have been ascending to more prestigious positions. Chloe Schama, Vogue, 12 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hapless.' 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 happelesse, from happe "luck, fortune, hap entry 1" + -lesse -less

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near hapless

Cite this Entry

“Hapless.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hapless. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


hap·​less ˈhap-ləs How to pronounce hapless (audio)
: having no luck : unfortunate
haplessly adverb
haplessness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on hapless

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