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

Example Sentences

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 Both are offensively inept, turn the ball over and are just consistently unreliable. Richard Morin, USA TODAY, 17 Nov. 2022 But the offense was inept on Monday, the first game without receiver Ja’Marr Chase (hip). Jason Williams, The Enquirer, 3 Nov. 2022 And there have been some alliances that were hysterically inept. Dalton Ross,, 10 Aug. 2022 But for every Volodymyr Zelensky, there’s at least one Beppe Grillo, the comedian whose political career as head of Italy’s Five Star Movement was as comically inept as that of any of his professional political rivals. Gerard Baker, WSJ, 8 Aug. 2022 Sasha, pretty inept on social media herself, sees a pathway to popularity and latches onto Carly. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Nov. 2022 But Musk could certainly kneecap Twitter via inept management. Charlie Warzel, The Atlantic, 27 Oct. 2022 Despite frustration over his inept performance, Mook retained party favor. Andrew Cockburn, Harper’s Magazine , 26 Oct. 2022 Everybody whose decor was limited to inept pumpkins, lit by real candles, rolled their eyes while secretly envying the holiday people’s creativity and candy budget. Kris Frieswick, WSJ, 26 Oct. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'inept.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 2 Dec. 2022.

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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