help·​less | \ ˈhel-pləs How to pronounce helpless (audio) ; 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

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Iraqis have felt furious and helpless at being caught in the middle of fighting between Baghdad’s two closest allies. Washington Post, "US dismisses Iraq request to work on a troop withdrawal plan," 10 Jan. 2020 Baby dogs, cats, seals, raccoons, and bears—to name only a few—all enter life small, blind, mostly hairless and pretty helpless. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Panda Bears Have Teeny, Tiny Babies and We Don’t Know Why," 18 Dec. 2019 Her mother, Jenni Woodruff of Alexandria, was helpless to protect her. Terry Demio, USA TODAY, "Covering the opioid epidemic: Despair, bravery, helplessness, iron will and too much death," 15 Dec. 2019 Her mother, Jenni Woodruff of Alexandria, was helpless to protect her., "Covering the opioid epidemic: Despair and bravery, helplessness, iron will and way too much death," 12 Dec. 2019 The feelings vary from positive ones like relaxing and calm, to negative ones like isolated and helpless. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, "Switching their phones off makes Indians bored, sad, and disconnected," 23 Dec. 2019 The heavily armed shooters who executed a Jersey City, N.J., cop before killing three helpless victims inside a kosher business were fueled by their hatred of police and the Jewish faith, authorities said. Tribune News Service, oregonlive, "‘The evidence points to acts of hate’ in kosher market massacre, police say," 13 Dec. 2019 Federal laws with good intentions provide a fertile environment for lawsuits and make all of us on the local level feel helpless. Letter Writers, Twin Cities, "Letters: ‘Big Law’ must love federal laws like the ADA," 8 Dec. 2019 The Browns defense was almost helpless against Arizona and rookie QB Kyler Murray early in the game. Terry Pluto, cleveland, "Cleveland Browns defense savaged for 299 yards, offense not much better," 15 Dec. 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about helpless

Time Traveler for helpless

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for helpless

Last Updated

16 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Helpless.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 20 January 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for helpless


How to pronounce helpless (audio)

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 How to pronounce helpless (audio) \

Kids Definition of helpless

: without help or defense a helpless infant

Other Words from helpless

helplessly adverb
helplessness noun

Keep scrolling for more

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).


not to be intimidated or subdued

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Eponym Quiz

  • rubens painting
  • Which is the best synonym of bowdlerize?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!