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

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

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What does the word selfless mean?

According to Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, the word selfless (pronounced ​​​sɛlflɪs) is an adjective that describes a person who is generous and not concerned with themselves. This person is often giving and charitable, and puts others above themselves. If someone does a selfless service or selfless act, this means that they are not doing it to get fame or honor. Charity work in which a number of people sacrifice time from their own lice for people’s needs is considered selfless civic engagement. Armed service members are also considered selfless followers of liberty because they will lay down their life for a person’s needs. They are not acting out of selfishness or their own interests, but for the sake of an unknown person. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

Many different languages also content words that mean selfless. You might notice that some of these words look and sound similar in different languages. These are called cognates, which are when two words retain the same meaning across languages as well as look and sound the same. These 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 selfless is provided by Word Sense.

  • Mandarin: 無私‎, 无私‎ (wúsī), 公而忘私‎ (gōng’érwàngsī), 忘我‎
  • Georgian: თავდაუზოგავი‎, თავდადებული‎
  • Hungarian: önzetlen‎
  • Italian: altruista‎, altruistico‎, disinteressato‎
  • Spanish: desinteresado‎
  • Russian: самоотве́рженный‎, бескоры́стный‎
  • Finnish: epäitsekäs‎
  • Greek: ανιδιοτελής‎, αφίλαυτος‎, φιλάλληλος‎, αλτρουιστής‎
  • Portuguese: altruísta‎, desinteressado‎ (masc.)
  • French: dévoué‎, altruiste‎
  • Japanese: 無私無欲‎
  • Swedish: osjälvisk‎
  • Turkish: fedakâr‎, özgecil‎, özverili‎
  • German: selbstlos‎, uneigennützig‎

How can the word selfless be used in a sentence?

The word selfless can be used in a variety of different contexts to refer to someone who is giving and charitable. It can also be used to describe a random act of kindness, compassion, or empathy by ordinary people. It can also be used to contrast someone who is very selfish. In this first example, Jana is receiving an award from the mayor.

Mayor: Jana, I am pleased to present you with the Thousand Hour Charity Award. This award is not easy to obtain, and requires a high school student to perform over 1000 hours of charity work or volunteer hours. Jana is one of the most selfless students I have ever met, and devotes her time to working with people at the local breast cancer charity.

Jana: Thank you so much. I’m so grateful to accept this award. I love the work I do, and I plan to go to college to become a therapist so I can continue working with them. We lost our mother’s life to this illness, so my brother and I want to dedicate our own lives to eradicating the disease.

Here, the mayor describes Jana as a selfless kid. She has performed over 1000 hours of volunteer work for selfless ends, and clearly puts others above herself. Next, Ilana and Sofia are going to the movies. A homeless man is asking for money on the side of the street.

Homeless Man: Anything to spare, ladies?

Ilana: Here you go, get yourself a hot meal and some water. There’s a dollar store around the corner that has a ton of cheap food, too.

Homeless Man: Thank you.

Sofia: Ilana, I love that you’re so selfless, but that was the money we were supposed to use for the movie. 

What is the origin of the word selfless?

According to Etymonline, the word selfless has been used since 1825. This comes from the root word self and the suffix less, meaning not. The word self is a pronoun that comes from the Old English self, also spelled seolf or sylf, meaning one’s own person. This comes from the Proto-Germanic selbaz, meaning self. This is used in many different compound words and reflexive pronouns, and the word self has been used as a noun since the early 14th century. Related words include the adverb selflessly and noun selflessness.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word selfless?

There are many different words that someone can use in place of the word selfless. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as a given word or phrase. Synonyms are very useful to know because they can help you avoid repeating yourself while simultaneously expanding your vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word selfless is provided by Thesaurus

  • caring
  • honest
  • benevolent
  • loose
  • romantic
  • moderate
  • ardent
  • loyal
  • disinterested
  • high-minded
  • doting
  • demonstrative
  • helpful
  • faithful
  • considerate
  • munificent
  • just
  • prodigal
  • earnest
  • magnanimous
  • noble
  • attached
  • humanitarian
  • bighearted
  • willing
  • reverential
  • fond
  • self-forgetting
  • unselfish
  • enamored
  • warm
  • kindly
  • reasonable
  • sentimental
  • altruistic
  • easy
  • appreciative
  • kind
  • infatuated
  • attentive
  • amiable
  • acceptable
  • anxious
  • charitable
  • devoted
  • beneficent
  • chivalrous
  • philanthropic
  • expressive
  • solicitous
  • honorable
  • self-sacrificing
  • denying
  • self-forgetful
  • admiring
  • generous
  • big
  • respecting
  • giving
  • free
  • friendly
  • unstinting
  • tender
  • lavish
  • self-denying
  • passionate
  • thoughtful
  • hospitable
  • liberal
  • greathearted
  • liking
  • kindhearted
  • unsparing
  • lofty
  • bountiful
  • indulgent
  • amatory
  • incorruptible
  • erotic
  • tolerant
  • zealous
  • warm-hearted
  • open-handed
  • excellent
  • equitable
  • valuing
  • affectionate
  • ungrudging
  • fervent
  • good
  • bound up
  • amorous
  • dear
  • extroverted
  • concerned
  • soft-touch
  • profuse
  • impassioned
  • reverent
  • fair
  • idolatrous
  • worshipful
  • cordial
  • loving
  • self-effacing
  • bounteous

There are also numerous different words that mean the opposite of the word selfless. These are called antonyms. Antonyms are another quick, simple way to work on expanding your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word selfless is also provided by Thesaurus

  • egocentric
  • knavish
  • churlish
  • out for number one
  • rugged
  • dangerous
  • parsimonious
  • narcissistic
  • snide
  • hard
  • touch
  • mingy
  • self-interested
  • hoggish
  • prejudiced
  • stingy
  • self-absorbed
  • cantankerous
  • egotistical
  • stuck on oneself
  • sinking
  • egoistical
  • penurious
  • niggard
  • ill-tempered
  • treacherous
  • mercenary
  • rapacious
  • vexatious
  • grandstanding
  • close
  • infamous
  • ugly
  • bad-tempered
  • dirty
  • nasty
  • evil
  • unscrupulous
  • wrapped up in oneself
  • sour
  • miserly
  • scurrilous
  • egotistic
  • self-sufficient
  • narrow-minded
  • selfish
  • egoistic
  • greedy
  • liverish
  • formidable
  • malicious
  • narrow
  • self-centered
  • pesky
  • inward-looking
  • egomaniacal
  • self-indulgent
  • vicious
  • down
  • rotten
  • mean
  • hard-nosed
  • perfidious
  • having a swelled head
  • on an ego trip
  • callous
  • self-serving
  • scrimpy
  • self-seeking
  • independent
  • ungenerous
  • low-down and dirty
  • tight-fisted
  • contemptible
  • rough
  • difficult
  • self-involved
  • disagreeable
  • malign
  • unfriendly
  • wrapped up with oneself
  • lousy
  • shameless
  • penny-pinching
  • ignoble
  • tight
  • troublesome
  • unpleasant
  • the lowest
  • despicable
  • dishonorable
  • vile
  • know-it-all

Overall, the word selfless (pronounced ​​​ˈsɛlflɪs) is an adjective that describes someone who is charitable, generous, and puts others above themselves. This person is the opposite of someone who is selfish. The word selfish is Old English and Proto-Germanic in origin. Try performing a selfless act of gratitude or a selfless act of charity today!

Sources:

  1. https://www.wordsense.eu/selfless/
  2. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/selfless
  3. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/selfish
  4. https://www.etymonline.com/word/selfless#:~:text=selfless%20(adj.),First%20attested%20in%20Coleridge.
  5. https://www.etymonline.com/word/self?ref=etymonline_crossreference
  6. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/selfless
  7. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/selfless