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 Vigilante groups took up arms and notched a number of victories, succeeding where the state had proven inept or corrupt. Alexander Sammon, Harper's Magazine, 16 Oct. 2023 Ed Zurga/Associated Press Belichick chose not to spend for a player whose mere presence would have eased the burden on third-year quarterback Mac Jones, who, frankly, is owed a mea culpa or two from his coach after being saddled with the inept Matt Patricia as his offensive coordinator last season. Globe Staff,, 18 July 2023 Its leaders and authorities were alternatively cruel and inept and — even more infuriating to Navalny — a bunch of greedy, hypocritical liars. David M. Herszenhorn, Washington Post, 27 Oct. 2023 Those games were seen only on the Pac-12 Network, with its inept broadcast missing major plays and pixelated throughout. WSJ, 19 Sep. 2023 Whether that offense was/is somewhat inept or the Ute resistance was/is somewhat stellar, that’s a question for another day. Gordon Monson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 1 Sep. 2023 As Kremer and Rodriguez showed the past two nights — combining to allow one run over 12 innings against an offensively inept White Sox team — pitchers can surpass their career highs for innings and still perform. Nathan Ruiz, Baltimore Sun, 30 Aug. 2023 This theory is possible; a crooked or inept employee might have taken the file, wangled it to serve Ariely’s hypothesis, and then re-sent it using a non-Hartford e-mail address. Gideon Lewis-Kraus, The New Yorker, 30 Sep. 2023 In a 20-7 road loss to the Dolphins, a strip-sack that led to a Melvin Ingram fumble recovery for a touchdown and a 42-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Jaylen Waddle on fourth down just before halftime left the Patriots looking somewhere between unprepared and inept. Globe Staff,, 15 Sep. 2023 See More

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 28 Nov. 2023.

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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