Deadbeat – Definition & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Do you know someone who does not pay their debts or neglects their household responsibilities? That person might be a deadbeat. Keep reading to learn the definition of deadbeat and examples of how to use it in a sentence.

Definition of Deadbeat

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Deadbeat is a compound word with more than one definition. As a noun, it informally means someone who does not want to work or achieve anything. If you know someone who relies on another person to shoulder responsibility, they are probably a deadbeat.

This word is more common in North American English than other English variants. For example:

  • Her parents think she’s a deadbeat who doesn’t want to get a job.
  • They are a bunch of deadbeats who don’t know what to do with their lives.

Other people use deadbeat to address someone who doesn’t want to work or achieve anything. For example:

  • Admit it, deadbeat. You’re not going anywhere.

Deadbeat, as an adjective, means without recoil. We use this term for a clock escapement or other mechanism. For example:

  • George Graham invented the deadbeat escapement or Graham escapement.

Is It Deadbeat or Dead-Beat?

Deadbeat Ngram
Usage trend of deadbeat and dead-beat.

There has yet to be an official agreement on the correct spelling of the compound word. But deadbeat is the most commonly used version, which the Ngram confirms.

This is the case among most compound words in transition. Most of them start as separate words. As language becomes simpler, many people get more comfortable spelling them as one word.

Dead-beat with the hyphen is also common, which means it is close to becoming officially rendered as one word.

The compound word was originally used in the nineteenth century to refer to someone exhausted. Beat was used as being exhausted.

But in the 1800s, deadbeat started to mean a lazy person who didn’t perform their duty.

Deadbeat Synonym

Here are some synonyms for deadbeat as a noun.

  • Layabout
  • Loafer
  • Lounger
  • Idler
  • Aster
  • Wastrel
  • Good-for-nothing
  • Parasite
  • Bum
  • Scrounger
  • Sponger
  • Freeloader

Phrases With Deadbeat in Them

Here are some examples of deadbeat in a sentence.

  • Don’t take money from deadbeats; there’s always a catch.
  • I’m glad she dumped her intoxicated deadbeat boyfriend.
  • His parents were real deadbeats growing up.
  • My next-door neighbor’s kid was always over at our house growing up. Now, as an adult, she finally told me why. Her parents were deadbeats and barely fed her and sometimes even hit her.
  • I grew up thinking my father was an amazing, brilliant man. Turns out, he was a deadbeat criminal.
  • Kids aren’t accessories. They aren’t cute little handbags or chic new shoes that you can show off at will — they are real, actual human beings that require love, commitment, and time. It seems obvious, but apparently not for this deadbeat dad on Reddit. (She Knows)

Don’t Be a Deadbeat

Being called a deadbeat can be insulting. It means the person doesn’t want to pay what they owe or take responsibility. If you don’t want to use the informal term, a better word choice would be defaulter.

What other English words do you want to learn about?

Want to know more compound words? Check out some others we covered: