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Helpless vs hapless

Helpless and hapless are two words that are pronounced similarly and spelled similarly, but have different meanings. We will look at the definitions of the words helpless and hapless, where they come from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Helpless describes someone who cannot defend himself, someone who is unable to provide for himself or cope with life, someone weak. The word helpless is derived from the Old English word help and the suffix -less from the Old English word læs. Related words are helplessly and helplessness.


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Hapless describes someone wretched or unfortunate. Interestingly, the word hapless is derived from an archaic word, hap, which means good fortune or luck. The word hap is no longer used in the English language, but its antonym, hapless, remains as a fossil word. Related words are haplessly and haplessness.

Examples

The ASB upheld complaints because the ad “makes the women appear unintelligent and presents them in a stereotypical helpless female situation”. (The Canberra Times)

Not that she likes such an audience, but it is just that she is helpless and has to earn her livelihood and support her family. (The Hindustan Times)

Hapless biker survives crash without a scratch only to be hit by falling lamppost he knocked over (The Mirror)

Porto eased into the Champions League knockout stages on Wednesday with a 5-0 win over Leicester City’s hapless second-string side, who suffered the heaviest defeat ever by an English side in the European Cup. (The South China Morning Post)

And it isn’t clear whether the president-elect is blundering haplessly into foreign policy mistakes or signaling through tweets and phone calls an intention to change the course of U.S. foreign policy or if he is being manipulated by members his inner circle to advance their own agendas. (The Los Angeles Times)

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