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 Whatever the case, the ship’s ordeal has launched online jokes, with social media tickled by the seemingly hapless spectacle of local authorities struggling to extract such a vast vessel out from its sandy rut. Washington Post, "The Suez Canal, a chokepoint of history," 26 Mar. 2021 Cook didn’t have to be a magician for each of his career-high 206 rushing yards against the Lions, as the Vikings offensive line soundly blocked a typically hapless Lions front on plays like this shotgun power run in the first quarter. Andrew Krammer, Star Tribune, "Film review: Vikings offensive line gives an inch, Dalvin Cook takes a mile," 10 Nov. 2020 Dan Bakkedahl, as a somewhat hapless security man for Byron, is an expert at deadpan physical comedy (lots of bad things happen to him). Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, "In 'Made for Love,' Cristin Milioti's rage takes a familiar shape: a defiant middle finger," 28 Mar. 2021 Knowland is not an epiphenomenon of cancel culture writ large, a hapless victim of the times. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "England’s Top School Fires Teacher for Thought Crimes," 4 Dec. 2020 Here is the nimble hunter Australovenator crunching the neck of a hapless herbivore. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, "Children’s Books: ‘The Age of Dinosaurs’ Review," 12 Mar. 2021 The squad sat out the 1944-45 conference schedule before returning for a typically hapless finish in 1945-46. Phil Rosenthal, chicagotribune.com, "So much for Chicago’s Big Ten team: 75 years ago, the University of Chicago told the conference it wanted out," 8 Mar. 2021 Oregon was fourth in the league at that point, but its junior point guard felt a then-season-best three-point shooting performance against a hapless rival was going to build momentum and confidence. oregonlive, "Will Richardson’s career-high 22 leads Oregon past Oregon State, Ducks repeat as Pac-12 regular-season champs," 8 Mar. 2021 Get ready for another season — hopefully, the last — of the most hapless act in sports. Paul Newberry, ajc, "Column: With DH shelved, another year of hapless NL swings," 5 Mar. 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

14 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

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