The Meaning of Despair: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of despair? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word despair, including its definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word despair mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the word despair is a noun (pronunciation: ​​​​​​dɪˈspɛə) that means either an utter loss of hope or a cause of hopelessness. The word despair can also be used as either a transitive verb or an intransitive verb. As an intransitive verb the word despair means to lose all hope or confidence. As a transitive verb The word despair is now obsolete but meant to lose hope for.  Despair is a harsh word that implies a total loss of hope or utter hopelessness. An act of desperation is something that someone does at the last minute when they are in despair. If one is in a permanent state of passive despair, this could mean that they are struggling with depression or mental health issues. This could present itself as a loss of courage, frustrations, dismay, or a depressive state of mind. Someone who is in a furious struggle with depression or despair will probably not be in an active state.  You can also find definitions for the word despair in places like Collins English Dictionary or American Heritage.

Many different languages also contain words that mean despair. You might notice that some of these translations look and sound similar to the word despair. These are called cognates, which are words that mean the same thing between languages and also look and sound similar. Cognates are usually formed when two words have the same root or language of origin, like Latin or Greek. This list of translations for the word despair is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Swedish: förtvivla‎
  •  Dutch: wanhopen‎
  •  German: verzweifeln‎
  •  Norwegian: fortvile‎
  •  Macedonian: очајува‎ (očájuva)
  •  Swahili: kukata tamaa‎
  •  Bulgarian: губя надежда‎
  •  Finnish: menettää‎, luopua‎
  •  Maori: takarure‎
  •  Portuguese: desesperar-se‎
  •  French: désespérer‎
  •  Armenian: հուսահատվել‎
  •  Romanian: despera‎
  •  Spanish: desesperanzar‎ (pronominal), desesperar‎ (intr., pronominal)
  •  Esperanto: malesperi‎
  •  Czech: zoufat‎
  •  Polish: rozpaczać‎
  •  Greek: απελπίζομαι‎

What is the origin of the word despair?

According to Etymonline, the word despair has been used as a noun since the year 1300 and as a verb since the mid 14th century. The verb was originally the Middle English despeiren and the noun was the Middle English despeir. These come from the Old French despeir, Old French despoir and Old French desperer, and the Anglo-French despeir. These come from the Latin dēspērāre meaning to lose all hope, from the root de meaning without and the root sperare/spērāre meaning to hope, from the Proto-Indo-European roots spes meaning prosperity. Related words include despaired, desperation (n.), despairing, and despairingly (adv.), which are formed from the suffixes ed, tion, ing, and ly.

How can the word despair be used in a sentence?

Despair can be used in many different sentences in the English language. Below are a few examples of ways that you can use despair in a sentence. 

His struggle with obstacles outside of his control, including his rejection from Princeton University, led him into the depths of despair and depression.

He fell into a state of deep gloom and state of despair under the adverse circumstances of his solitude, as even his border cells were empty. He had an utter disregard of consequences and did not care what happened to himself or others. 

After her latest setback in the final months of her job, the woman found herself in an ocean of despair. Her abandonment of hope was not surprising, given her boss’ furious efforts to berate her at every turn.

The horrors of war the young man say gave him a sense of futility and defeat; his family was surprised to see his complete despondency, despair and state of hopelessness.

After seeing the general feeling of an utter lack of hope and despair of my teachers by the unmotivated students’ emotional states, it gave me a new kind of courage to try and change the school system for the better. Seeing the elimination of the despair of their teachers gave the students the hope of comfort – even their handwriting improved.

He felt she was surrounded by despair: the despair of his mother, the despair of his coming back to America after ten years away, and the despair of humanity. 

The sour note during the first movement of his fifth symphony drove Beethoven to despair.

He brought himself out of the despair caused by the press criticism and threw himself into performing a new fierce activity that would prove them wrong.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word despair?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word despair. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another given word or phrase. It is very useful to know synonyms if you are trying to expand your vocabulary as well as if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the word despair is provided by Thesaurus. 

  •  desperation
  •  sorrow
  •  trial
  •  dashed hopes
  •  hopeless state
  •  humiliation
  •  disrepair
  •  tribulation
  •  ordeal
  •  misery
  •  melancholy
  •  anguish
  •  discouragement
  •  hopelessness
  •  gloom
  •  despondency
  •  forlornness
  •  wretchedness
  •  pain
  •  dejection
  •  disheartenment
  •  apathy
  •  depression
  •  dismay

There are also many different words that mean the opposite of the word despair. These opposite words are called antonyms. Learning antonyms is another great way to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus

  •  wonder
  •  hopefulness
  •  glee
  •  desire
  •  courage
  •  ecstasy
  •  gain
  •  good humor
  •  castles in air
  •  sport
  •  delectation
  •  fool’s paradise
  •  bright side
  •  exulting
  •  charm
  •  cheer
  •  greedy glutton
  •  thing with feathers
  •  expectation
  •  rapture
  •  revelry
  •  gladness
  •  animation
  •  frolic
  •  felicity
  •  buoyancy
  •  Promised Land
  •  hope
  •  humor
  •  pride and joy
  •  belief
  •  luxury
  •  comfort
  •  refreshment
  •  merriment
  •  jewel
  •  solace
  •  pipe dream
  •  stock
  •  elation
  •  pride
  •  alleviation
  •  expectancy
  •  confidence
  •  ravishment
  •  ambition
  •  delight
  •  fortune
  •  indulgence
  •  prize
  •  bliss
  •  gaiety
  •  joy
  •  concern
  •  reward
  •  rejoicing
  •  jubilance
  •  regalement
  •  fancy
  •  gem
  •  satisfaction
  •  exultation
  •  faith
  •  transport
  •  sanguineness
  •  reverie
  •  liveliness
  •  assumption
  •  festivity
  •  endurance
  •  gratification
  •  goal
  •  treat
  •  daydream
  •  diversion
  •  amusement
  •  anticipation
  •  mirth
  •  fruition
  •  utopia
  •  light at end of tunnel
  •  treasure
  •  achievement
  •  optimism
  •  promise
  •  aspiration
  •  reliance
  •  security
  •  rosiness
  •  prospect
  •  hilarity
  •  dependence
  •  wish

Overall, the word despair means hopelessness or the action of losing hope. This word comes from the Latin desperare. 


  1. DESPAIR Synonyms: 55 Synonyms & Antonyms for DESPAIR | Thesaurus 
  2. HOPE Synonyms: 100 Synonyms & Antonyms for HOPE | Thesaurus 
  3. despair: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  4. despair | Origin and meaning of despair | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  5. Despair | Definition of Despair | Merriam-Webster