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

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

The unfortunate Piggy, who continually strives for tribal harmony but is helpless without his glasses, is given dimension beyond his lowly status by Isaiah Nuno. Tom Titus,, "On Theater: A haunting premiere of ‘Little Black Shadows’ at SCR," 19 Apr. 2018 The neurological pathways that connected his brain to his muscle memory had been dormant and disconnected so long that the wiring had decayed, leaving him as helpless as a toddler. Lindsey Vehlewald, SELF, "We Never Got Flu Shots. Then the Flu Almost Killed My Husband," 9 Nov. 2018 The Braves unsuccessfully challenged the call at home plate, and were left helpless after Charlie Culberson was thrown out trying to advance to third on a pitch that bounced away from catcher Willson Contreras. Mark Gonzales,, "Yu Darvish pulled after 4, Cubs-Braves tied at 1 in 7th," 15 May 2018 Congressional Republicans are helpless to stop Trump, because the president enjoys wide latitude on trade. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "You’re Either With Trump on Trade, or Against Him," 5 Apr. 2018 Manser was fearless, climbing and wandering through remote areas where a single slip or fall could have left him helpless. Erik Spanberg, The Christian Science Monitor, "'The Last Wild Men of Borneo' is a real-life adventure tale about two expats in the jungle," 27 Mar. 2018 Baugh said the company's private status has left its customers helpless. Howard Koplowitz,, "McCalla families claim private sewer company is a racket," 1 Mar. 2018 Less than four minutes later, Peter Holland tied it on a second rebound as the Flyers defense left Lyon helpless. Sam Carchidi,, "Flyers whip Rangers as Alex Lyon excels in relief of injured Michal Neuvirth," 18 Feb. 2018 Most of us feel helpless in the face of ongoing international atrocities, and dunking on their perpetrators on Twitter functions is always a helpful outlet. Liz Raiss, GQ, "Kim Jong-un Looks Like He's Wearing Lifts," 12 June 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.

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

Statistics for helpless

Last Updated

2 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for helpless

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


involving abstract or general statements

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Liar, Liar Quiz

  • alt-5761dbe2ba986
  • Someone who pretends to be sick in order to avoid work is a:
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Add Diction

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!