Definition of hapless
- 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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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
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.
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").
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