in·​ept i-ˈnept How to pronounce inept (audio)
: generally incompetent : bungling
inept leadership
: lacking in fitness or aptitude : unfit
inept at sports
: not suitable to the time, place, or occasion : inappropriate often to an absurd degree
an inept metaphor
: lacking sense or reason : foolish
ineptly adverb
ineptness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for inept

awkward, clumsy, maladroit, inept, gauche mean not marked by ease (as of performance, movement, or social conduct).

awkward is widely applicable and may suggest unhandiness, inconvenience, lack of muscular control, embarrassment, or lack of tact.

periods of awkward silence

clumsy implies stiffness and heaviness and so may connote inflexibility, unwieldiness, or lack of ordinary skill.

a clumsy mechanic

maladroit suggests a tendency to create awkward situations.

a maladroit politician

inept often implies complete failure or inadequacy.

a hopelessly inept defense attorney

gauche implies the effects of shyness, inexperience, or ill breeding.

felt gauche and unsophisticated at formal parties

Examples of inept in a Sentence

Not only does the post have a narrow mandate, covering such sexy subjects as nuclear waste and solar energy, but the secretary presides over the most inept bureaucrats in the land. Franklin Foer, New Republic, 3 July 2000
The real hackers have an understanding of technology at a basic level.  … The rest are talentless poseurs and hangers-on, either completely inept or basic criminals. Bruce Schneier, Secrets & Lies, 2000
To Cornelius, the White House travel office must have seemed—as it would have to any of the others who had served on the tight ship of the campaign's travel operation—an appallingly inept … operation. Peter J. Boyer, New Yorker, 15 Apr. 1996
He was completely inept at sports. He made an inept attempt to apologize.
Recent Examples on the Web The movie, made on a budget of $50,000, was too logy and inept to be a real scandal, or any sort of theatrical sleeper hit. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 27 Mar. 2024 But a picture eventually emerges of an inept bunch. Alma Guillermoprieto, The New Yorker, 4 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for inept 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'inept.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle French inepte, from Latin ineptus, from in- + aptus apt

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of inept was in 1542

Dictionary Entries Near inept

Cite this Entry

“Inept.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


in·​ept in-ˈept How to pronounce inept (audio)
: not suited for the occasion : inappropriate
an inept remark
: lacking in skill or ability : incompetent
ineptly adverb
ineptness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on inept

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