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 Another show, a documentary, suggested that hapless Iranian nuclear negotiators were strolling into a trap laid by the United States. Washington Post, "Iran’s hard-liners step up attacks on Rouhani government, sowing suspicion over nuclear talks," 4 May 2021 Medical oxygen has been in short supply, and hapless state governments and private hospitals have had to go to court—and appeal on Twitter—to help their patients. Manavi Kapur, Quartz, "India’s top doctor association places Modi at the centre of the country’s Covid-19 spread," 28 Apr. 2021 Then, Robinhood investors had bid the hapless retailer up to the troposphere, partly to stick it to the hedgies who had shorted it. Larry Light, Forbes, "Look Out: Here Comes Higher Stock Volatility," 28 Apr. 2021 Many QAnon proponents post-election have worked to reframe the COVID-19 vaccines not as the solution to a global pandemic but as an attempt by a cabal to control the minds of a hapless world. Sophie Bjork-james, Chron, "QAnon hasn't gone away - it's alive and kicking in states across the country," 26 Apr. 2021 Instead, Mankiewicz comes across as a sort of hapless transcriber of events, attending Hearst parties and cobbling together a narrative from scraps of real life. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, "How “Mank” Distorts Orson Welles," 2 Apr. 2021 Jeff pretends to have no idea what happened, and Amber shifts into hapless detective mode, futilely accusing everyone other than the obvious suspect. Kathryn Vanarendonk, Vulture, "All Hail Amber Ruffin," 22 Mar. 2021 Did my uncle outwit hapless state troopers to get across state lines? Steve Straessle, Arkansas Online, "Shine on," 20 Mar. 2021 Once inside, the criminals overpowered the hapless guards, disabled the security cameras and got to work removing precious works of art from their frames. Nora Mcgreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, "What to Know About the Gardner Museum Heist," 10 Apr. 2021

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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Time Traveler for hapless

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

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Last Updated

8 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Hapless.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hapless. Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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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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