The Meaning of To No Avail: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the phrase to no avail means? This guide will give you all of the necessary information on the phrase to no avail, including its definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What is the meaning of the English phrase to no avail?

According to the Merriam-Webster American English Dictionary and other dictionary apps, the phrase “to no avail” means “without success.” It means that one has tried something, but that they were unsuccessful. This phrase is considered an idiom. Idioms Dictionary states that the phrase can also be stated as “to little avail.” If something is done to no avail, it means that it has little to no benefit or effect. This term can be used in a plethora of different circumstances. Here, the word avail is used as a noun and means advantage or assistance. 

What is the origin of the phrase to no avail?

According to Dictionary and 7 E S L, the phrase to no avail uses a meaning of the word avail that has usage dating back to the mid-1400s. In this case, the idiom to no avail uses the word avail to mean advantage or assistance.

According to Etymonline, the word avail means to help or assist someone, to benefit, to be profitable to, or to serve a certain purpose. This appears to be an Anglo-French compound of the Old French “a” meaning “to and “vail.” Vail stems from valoir which means to be worth, which has its roots from the Latin valere, meaning to be strong or to be worthy.

How can the phrase to no avail be used in a sentence?

The phrase to no avail can be used in a variety of different circumstances. This phrase is considered polite, so it can either be used in casual, formal, or professional settings and one does not need to worry about the phrase being too relaxed or casual for different situations.  Below are a few different examples of ways in which the phrase to no avail can be used in different contexts.

In this first example, Natasha left her phone on a train. She contacts the customer service department and someone told her that they were going to look for her phone. She receives a call from the train company’s customer service department.

Customer Service Agent: Hi, is this Natasha?

Natasha: Yes, that’s me.

Customer Service Agent: Hi Natasha, I wanted to let you know that we searched the whole area including loading zones, every train compartment, and the platforms at which we load the trains, but to no avail. Unfortunately we were unable to find your phone.

Natasha: Well, it was worth a shot. Thank you so much for looking.

Customer Service Agent: Of course, ma’am. Thank you for riding with us.

Here, the customer service agent uses the phrase to no avail to let Natasha know that their attempts were futile and that the train company was unable to find her phone. In this next example, Margaux knows that she was adopted as a child from the Ukraine. She is trying to find her birth family with the support of her adoptive parents. Her friend Kelsey asks her how her search is going.

Kelsey: Hey Margaux, how is the search for your parents going? Have you made any headway?

Margaux: Unfortunately not. I took a bunch of different at-home DNA tests to see if I got any matched, but the closest I got was a third cousin. I have no direct matches on any of the DNA test sites. Everything I’ve done has been to no avail.

Kelsey: I’m sorry, Margaux. It is going to be a very long and difficult process. Maybe you can work with a genealogist in the Ukraine to try and track them down? What do you know about them?

Margaux: All I know is my birth last name and the town I was adopted from. It’s no use, I’m never going to find them.

Kelsey: That’s not true! Your birth last name and the town you are from are incredible places to start. I’ll help you research Ukraine-based genealogists.

Margaux: Thanks Kelsey. You’re a great friend.

What are synonyms for the phrase to no avail?

There are many different ways one can describe things that are or have been unsuccessful. Lexico Thesaurus lists many of these, which are listed below. All of these words and phrasal verbs are defined by Merriam-Webster.

  • In vain – Describes something or some action that has been futile or ineffective.
  • Without success – Lacking in success or results.
  • Unsuccessfully – An adjective that means not having or producing success.
  • Vainly – An adverb describing something that has had no results or success.
  • With no result – Having little to no consequence, effect, or conclusion.
  • Fruitlessly – Unsuccessful, or not bearing any results or consequences.
  • To no purpose – Having no object, end, or consequence.
  • For nothing – For zero results, effects, or conclusions.
  • Bootlessly – an archaic word meaning useless or unprofitable.

Overall, the phrases to no avail and to little avail mean having little to no success or result. This phrase can be used in a variety of different circumstances to discuss things that have been unsuccessful or that have returned little to no results. This is considered a polite phrase and is appropriate in both casual, professional, and formal situations.