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[pou-er-lis] /ˈpaʊ ər lɪs/
unable to produce an effect:
a disease against which modern medicine is virtually powerless.
lacking power to act; helpless:
His legs crumpled, and he was powerless to rise.
Origin of powerless
First recorded in 1545-55; power + -less
Related forms
powerlessly, adverb
powerlessness, noun
1. ineffective. 2. feeble, impotent, prostrate, infirm. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for powerlessness
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It was heart-breaking to her to realise her powerlessness, when he could so easily empty his purse.

    The Dream Emile Zola
  • All other goodness is but too often an idleness or powerlessness of will.

    Reflections Francois Duc De La Rochefoucauld
  • But the colonel's despondent look expressed his powerlessness.

    The Downfall Emile Zola
  • "We've been, sir," said the Archdeacon, and then followed an explanation of the Bishop's powerlessness.

    The Christian Hall Caine
  • I never felt my powerlessness so much as I have since you come.

    Janet of the Dunes

    Harriet T. Comstock
British Dictionary definitions for powerlessness


without power or authority
Derived Forms
powerlessly, adverb
powerlessness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for powerlessness



early 15c., "lacking might or fortitude," from power (n.) + -less. Related: Powerlessly; powerlessness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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