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

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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 To say that there was a vulnerability at his core is to say the self-evident—there is one at everyone’s core—with his double blow rising from his existence as a fatherless boy who needed to protect his mother but was helpless to do so. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "Clive James Got It Right," 30 Nov. 2019 The hosts were helpless to defend against Maddison's free-kicks and corners, while questionable marking ensured that Söyüncü could break the deadlock in what was otherwise a tight match., "Crystal Palace 0-2 Leicester: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Soyuncu & Vardy Goals Secure Victory," 3 Nov. 2019 Meanwhile, people imagine themselves as objects helpless against the momentum of history. Sophie Pinkham, The New Republic, "Vasily Grossman’s Lost Epic," 27 Aug. 2019 One of the four thieves, later identified as then 21-year-old Alvin Bernard Ford, shot him twice in the chest and, when Ilyankoff was helpless on the ground, once in the head. Laurel Weibezahn,, "They killed a Fort Lauderdale police officer 45 years ago. Now, they’re seeking parole.," 19 June 2019 This might sound like sky-is-falling hyperbole, but the Ravens looked helpless trying to stop a Cleveland offense that had been in disarray just a week earlier against the Los Angeles Rams. Childs Walker,, "Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns," 30 Sep. 2019 But when that wears off, you're left feeling hollow and helpless. Special To The Oregonian,, "Thurston 20 years later: 'I never want to cover another school shooting'," 20 May 2018 Leverkusen's defence were unable to stop the free-flowing football that Die Schwarzgelben were playing and were helpless for all of the goals., "Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Bayer Leverkusen: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Reus Shines for BVB," 14 Sep. 2019 That was also during an era when society considered women to be helpless and unable to fend for themselves. Dahleen Glanton,, "Column: When a man offers a woman his seat on the train or bus, is it an act of kindness or sexism?," 9 Sep. 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.

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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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Time Traveler for helpless

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for helpless

Last Updated

4 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Helpless.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 14 December 2019.

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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

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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).


to assail by words or arguments

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