Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Unable to help oneself; powerless or incompetent.
  • adjective Lacking support or protection.
  • adjective Impossible to control; involuntary.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Incapable of acting without assistance; needing help; incapable of self-support or self-defense; feeble; dependent: as, a helpless babe; a helpless, shiftless fellow.
  • Incapable of helping; affording no help; unaiding.
  • Beyond help; irremediable.
  • Unsupplied; destitute.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective Destitute of help or strength; unable to help or defend one's self; needing help; feeble; weak.
  • adjective Beyond help; irremediable.
  • adjective obsolete Bringing no help; unaiding.
  • adjective rare Unsupplied; destitute; -- with of.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective Unable to defend oneself or to act without help.
  • adjective Uncontrollable.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adjective unable to manage independently
  • adjective unable to function; without help
  • adjective lacking in or deprived of strength or power

Etymologies

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English helples, from Old English *helplēas ("helpless"), equivalent to help +‎ -less. Compare Dutch hulpeloos ("helpless"), German hilflos ("helpless"), Swedish hjälplös ("helpless").

Examples

  • As unexpressed, he feels it in what we called a helpless and oppressed way; as expressed, he feels in a way from which this sense of oppression has vanished.

    Collingwood's Aesthetics

  • If we love the creatures of earth, who are so gaily irresponsible, so full of zest, we shall share with them the large-hearted merriment of comradeship, and find that the blessing of the helpless is the key to unlock the world.

    The Spring of Joy: A Little Book of Healing

  • Shall we cease to teach our children that of all covetousness, that which would spoil the helpless is the most revolting?

    Rural Hours

  • He seemed a forgetful kind of gentleman, and his hands were what I call helpless hands, sir!

    My Novel — Complete

  • He seemed a forgetful kind of gentleman, and his hands were what I call helpless hands, sir!

    My Novel — Volume 06

  • He was removed to what they call the helpless ward, where he was well nursed and attended.

    Poor Jack

  • He was removed to what they call the helpless ward, where he was well nursed and attended.

    Poor Jack

  • I say that as a graduate of the University of Virginia who collapses in helpless laughter whenever I hear someone use the term “Virginia gentleman”.

    Matthew Yglesias » A New First

  • Attempts at speech result in helpless coughing fits.

    missive from the sickbed

  • When they saw what had happened to the waitress, they stared in helpless horror, horrified by the horrific horrendousness of the situation.

    Sanguine Pizza

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