help·​less | \ˈhel-pləs; Southern often ˈhep-ləs also ˈheəp-\

Definition of helpless 

1 : lacking protection or support : defenseless as helpless as a flock of shepherdless sheep— W. H. Mallock

2a : marked by an inability to act or react the crowd looked on in helpless horrorCurrent Biography

b : not able to be controlled or restrained helpless laughter

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Other Words from helpless

helplessly adverb
helplessness noun

Examples of helpless in a Sentence

The civilians were helpless against their attackers. Firefighters were helpless against the blaze. I feel helpless. Isn't there anything I can do? The crowd was helpless with laughter. He was helpless with rage.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Andy Skinner must have felt strangely helpless when, on June 11, 1976, the body of Jim Konstanty arrived at his Worcester, N.Y., funeral home. Frank Fitzpatrick,, "The undertaker who brought Jim Konstanty to life | Frank's Place," 23 June 2018 Law enforcement officers saving animals isn't exactly big breaking news, but the tiny size of one helpless puppy helped make a Florida dog-rescue story go viral on Monday afternoon. Tiffini Theisen,, "Florida cops' rescue of puppy from hot car goes viral," 15 May 2018 One that left everybody else feeling just a bit helpless. Dave Skretta,, "Kevin Harvick still chases perfection after win at Kansas," 13 May 2018 Sara Ross, 16, felt a bit helpless after the mass shooting that left 58 dead at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas. David Montero,, "'I found my voice': Teen gets involved after Las Vegas massacre," 24 Mar. 2018 Perhaps, some anthropologists speculate, grandparents evolved to provide another source of food and care for all those helpless children. Alison Gopnik, WSJ, "Grandparents: The Storytellers Who Bind Us," 29 Mar. 2018 Equally helpless is the well-meaning but hapless Sheriff Burnett (Italian western veteran Frank Wolff), who is ordered to the very mythical town of Snow Hill, Utah, to try to create some law and order. Kenneth Turan,, "Spaghetti western classic 'The Great Silence' makes its proper U.S. debut after 50 years," 26 Apr. 2018 As a familiar cycle of thoughts and prayers set in, Ullman felt helpless and angry. Bridget Read, Vogue, "Meet the Young Female Filmmaker With a Gun-Reform Super PAC," 2 June 2018 Simultaneously, the ordeal ruptures their inner sense of identity and self-reliance, making them, finally, totally emotionally helpless and dependent on the group’s particular charismatic Big Brother. Win Mccormack, The New Republic, "A Mind’s Eye View of 1984," 12 Apr. 2018

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

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for helpless

see help entry 1

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Statistics for helpless

Last Updated

23 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for helpless

The first known use of helpless was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for helpless



English Language Learners Definition of helpless

: not protected : not able to defend yourself

: unable to do something to make a situation, task, etc., better or easier

: not able to be controlled


help·​less | \ˈhelp-ləs \

Kids Definition of helpless

: without help or defense a helpless infant

Other Words from helpless

helplessly adverb
helplessness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on helpless

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for helpless

Spanish Central: Translation of helpless

Nglish: Translation of helpless for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of helpless for Arabic Speakers

Comments on helpless

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


by force of circumstances

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