Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Encyclopedia.


1. Unable to help oneself; powerless or incompetent.
2. Lacking support or protection: They were left helpless in the storm.
3. Impossible to control; involuntary: helpless laughter.

help′less·ly adv.
help′less·ness n.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


  1. As defenseless [without a gun] as a tethered goat in a jungle —Eric Ambler
  2. Brutally as on a gag in her mouth, she choked on the sense of her defenselessness —Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  3. Chucked about like a cork —Nicholas Monsarrat
  4. Feel like a card in a deck that is being constantly shuffled —W. P. Kinsella
  5. Feel like a rookie runner caught off base by a wily pitcher, hung up in that vast area between first and second, fluttering back and forth like a wounded bird who knows he’s doomed —W. P. Kinsella

    See Also: BASEBALL

  6. Felt as a lost sailor on a sinking ship might feel, who throws his last rope, and no saving hands to grasp it —Stella Benson
  7. Felt [as result of being moved to another home by grandparents] as if I was being kidnapped —Elizabeth Bishop
  8. Felt helpless, like a rape victim —Rose Tremain
  9. Felt helpless, as if he were involved in some disgraceful fraud —Katherine Anne Porter
  10. Felt helpless, like a dog that’s been run over —Robert Lowry
  11. Felt I was nothing but a husk blown this way and that way by the winds of misfortune —Angela Carter
  12. Felt like a beast in a trap, whose enemy would come upon him soon —H. G. Wells
  13. Felt like a bone between dogs —Julia O’Faolain
  14. Felt like a man trapped in a swamp —Donald MacKenzie
  15. Felt like a marionette, as though something outside her were jerking the strings that forced her to scream and strike —Jean Rhys
  16. Felt like a wounded fish who faced a larger hungry fish —William Beechcroft
  17. Felt more and more like a soldier being pitched into battle without proper orders —John Fowles
  18. Felt ridiculous and out of control, like an engine breaking itself apart —Mark Helprin
  19. Helpless and hopeful as a blade of grass —George Garrett

    See Also: HOPE

  20. Get tossed like salad —Charles Bukowski
  21. Helpless … as a hooked fish swinging to land —Thomas Hardy
  22. Helpless as a lion without teeth —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Helpless as an infant caterpillar in a nest of hungry ants —James Montgomery
  24. Helpless as a plant without water —F. Hopkinson Smith
  25. Helpless [against tide of emotions] as a swimmer swept away in a strong current —Margaret Kennedy
  26. Helpless as a turtle on its back —O. Henry
  27. Helpless as a writhing beetle on its back —Robert Traver
  28. (I have become as) helpless as if the branch I seize and the one I stood upon both broke at the same time —Tamil
  29. Helpless as shadows —Jean Garrigue
  30. Helpless as the dead —W. S. Gilbert
  31. Helpless as the owner of a sick goldfish —Kin Hubbard
  32. Helpless … like a man with a rumbling volcano in his pocket, trying to hold back the eruption with his naked hand —Irving Stone
  33. Impotent yet defiant … like a wild animal driven into a hole or fettered to a stake —Arthur Train
  34. It was like being in an elevator cut loose at the top. Falling, falling, and not knowing when you will hit —Margaret Atwood
  35. I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter —The Holy Bible/Jeremiah
  36. Lame as a butterfly spread on a pin —Shirley Kaufman
  37. Like elastic, stretched beyond its uttermost, his reason, will, faculties of calculation and resolve snapped to within him —John Galsworthy
  38. Looked like sheep looking for their shepherd —W. Somerset Maugham
  39. My will was a leaf in a gust of wind —Natascha Wodin
  40. Powerless … as a stone —Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  41. Powerless as before a cataract —Simone de Beauvoir
  42. Powerless as the wind —Percy Bysshe Shelley
  43. The sense of being trapped ran through him like fire through dry grass —Ben Ames Williams
  44. Sense of helplessness … like a soft-shell crab that just shed its shell —Kenzaburo Oë
  45. Sinking under the leaden embrace of her affection like a swimmer in a drowning clutch —Edith Wharton
  46. The situation [of tumbling stock market prices] is like being caught in the Bermuda Triangle —Harvey P. Eisen, New York Times, January, 1986
  47. Tossed about like an empty can in the sea —Romain Gary
  48. Tossed about like cattle on a train —Ignazio Silone
  49. Tossed about like twigs in an angry water —Willa Cather
  50. Unable to do anything … it was like watching a big cat thrash around in a cage and being helpless to free the beast —May Sarton
  51. Watching a friend fail … it’s like a bunch of lifeguards standing and watching their friend drown —Robin Williams, “Sixty Minutes” interview, September 21, 1986

    The comedian’s comparison described how comedians feel when they watch one of their own fail on stage.

  52. We’re all drawn by wires like puppets, and the strongest wire pulls us in the direction in which we are meant to go —Ellen Glasgow
  53. Without power, like a buzzing horsefly —George Garrett
  54. Worked by strings, like a Japanese marionette —W. S. Gilbert
  55. Wriggling helplessly, like a butterfly impaled by a pin —Louis Bromfield
Similes Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1988 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.helplessness - powerlessness revealed by an inability to act; "in spite of their weakness the group remains active"
impotence, impotency, powerlessness - the quality of lacking strength or power; being weak and feeble
2.helplessness - the state of needing help from something
dependence, dependency, dependance - the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else
3.helplessness - a feeling of being unable to manage
depression - sad feelings of gloom and inadequacy
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002


The condition or state of being incapable of accomplishing or effecting anything:
The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
عَجْز، إنْعِدام الحيلَه
hjálparleysi; magnleysi


[ˈhelplɪsnɪs] N (= powerlessness) → impotencia f
he threw up his hands in a gesture of helplessnessalzó las manos en un gesto de impotencia
the helplessness of the situation made her ill with worryera una situación de impotencia tal que enfermó de preocupación
our helplessness against enemy aircraftnuestra indefensión ante los aviones enemigos
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005


[ˈhɛlpləsnɪs] nimpuissance f
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


nHilflosigkeit f; (= powerlessness)Machtlosigkeit f
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[ˈhɛlplɪsnɪs] nimpotenza
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995


(help) verb
1. to do something with or for someone that he cannot do alone, or that he will find useful. Will you help me with this translation?; Will you please help me (to) translate this poem?; Can I help?; He fell down and I helped him up.
2. to play a part in something; to improve or advance. Bright posters will help to attract the public to the exhibition; Good exam results will help his chances of a job.
3. to make less bad. An aspirin will help your headache.
4. to serve (a person) in a shop. Can I help you, sir?
5. (with can(not), ~could (not)) to be able not to do something or to prevent something. He looked so funny that I couldn't help laughing; Can I help it if it rains?
1. the act of helping, or the result of this. Can you give me some help?; Your digging the garden was a big help; Can I be of help to you?
2. someone or something that is useful. You're a great help to me.
3. a servant, farmworker etc. She has hired a new help.
4. (usually with no) a way of preventing something. Even if you don't want to do it, the decision has been made – there's no help for it now.
ˈhelper noun
We need several helpers for this job.
ˈhelpful adjective
a very helpful boy; You may find this book helpful.
ˈhelpfully adverb
ˈhelpfulness noun
ˈhelping noun
the amount of food one has on one's plate. a large helping of pudding.
ˈhelpless adjective
needing the help of other people; unable to do anything for oneself. A baby is almost completely helpless.
ˈhelplessly adverb
ˈhelplessness noun
help oneself
1. (with to) to give oneself or take (food etc). Help yourself to another piece of cake; `Can I have a pencil?' `Certainly – help yourself; He helped himself to (= stole) my jewellery.
2. (with cannot, ~could not) to be able to stop (oneself). I burst out laughing when he told me – I just couldn't help myself.
help out
to help (a person), usually for a short time because the person is in some difficulty. I help out in the shop from time to time; Could you help me out by looking after the baby?
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.


n (psych, etc.) indefensión f; learned — indefensión aprendida
English-Spanish/Spanish-English Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
He has taken a masterly advantage of our helplessness; and has imposed terms on us, for performances at Derby and Nottingham, with such a business-like disregard of all interests but his own that -- fond as I am of putting things down in black and white -- I really cannot prevail upon myself to record the bargain.
And they may unfold a tale of narrow escape, of steady ill-luck, of high winds and heavy weather, of ice, of interminable calms or endless head-gales; a tale of difficulties overcome, of adversity defied by a small knot of men upon the great loneliness of the sea; a tale of resource, of courage - of helplessness, perhaps.
My first impulse was to tell her of my love, and then I thought of the helplessness of her position wherein I alone could lighten the burdens of her captivity, and protect her in my poor way against the thousands of hereditary enemies she must face upon our arrival at Thark.
And all he could do was growl and rage his helplessness. For, unlike the other dogs, he would not howl or whimper his pain.
It is no pleasant picture I can conjure up of myself, Humphrey Van Weyden, in that noisome ship's galley, crouched in a corner over my task, my face raised to the face of the creature about to strike me, my lips lifted and snarling like a dog's, my eyes gleaming with fear and helplessness and the courage that comes of fear and helplessness.
The old helplessness was threatening once more to overcome her.
He wished it were not so; and very still he waited, feeling stricken by a blind man's helplessness.
There was something in the helplessness of the little animal held so tightly in his arms that gave him courage.
And, to cap the climax of their base ingratitude and fiendish barbarity, my grandmother, who was now very old, having outlived my old master and all his children, having seen the beginning and end of all of them, and her present owners finding she was of but little value, her frame already racked with the pains of old age, and complete helplessness fast stealing over her once active limbs, they took her to the woods, built her a little hut, put up a little mud-chimney, and then made her welcome to the privilege of support- ing herself there in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to die!
After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger.
But the wind was wanting; and to complete our helplessness, down came Hunter with the news that Jim Hawkins had slipped into a boat and was gone ashore with the rest.
I should say to my children: "For your father you need not pray; but for his Excellency, I bid you pray until your lives shall end." Yes, dear one--I tell you this in all solemnity, so hearken well unto my words--that though, during these cruel days of our adversity, I have nearly died of distress of soul at the sight of you and your poverty, as well as at the sight of myself and my abasement and helplessness, I yet care less for the hundred roubles which his Excellency has given me than for the fact that he was good enough to take the hand of a wretched drunkard in his own and press it.