at a loss

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Definition of at a loss


Below cost, as in The store was doing so badly that it was selling merchandise at a loss.


Puzzled, perplexed, in a state of uncertainty, as in When his letters were returned unopened, John was at a loss as to what to do next. This usage was originally applied to hounds who had lost the scent or track of their prey. [Mid-1600s]


at a loss for words. Unable or uncertain as to what to say. For example, Father's tirade left us all at a loss for words. [Late 1600s]

Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


What does at a loss mean?

At a loss means at a sale price lower than what something cost. At a loss can also mean to not know what to do or to not know what to say.

If a person or store sells something at a loss, it means the amount they sold it for was less than what they bought it for. You will lose money if you sell something at a loss. For example, if you buy a TV for $300 and sell it for $200, you sold it at a loss of $100.

  • Used in a sentence: This food expires tomorrow, so I am going to have to sell it at a loss before it’s worthless. 

If someone is at a loss, they don’t know what to do. They are so stricken by confusion or uncertainty that they can’t think of anything to do.

  • Used in a sentence: When the bus left without him, Angelo was at a loss as to how he was supposed to get home. 

Similarly, if someone is at a loss for words, they can’t or are unable to think of anything to say. This may be a result of a person being so shocked or astonished that their brain can’t concentrate enough to form words.

  • Used in a sentence: I was at a loss for words when my wife told me she was pregnant. 

Where does at a loss come from?

The phrase at a loss has been used since at least the mid-1600s. The sense of a sale’s deficit refers to losing money from a sale. The other senses likely refer to a figurative loss, or a lack, of words or ideas.

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What are some synonyms for at a loss?

What are some words that share a root or word element with at a loss

What are some words that often get used in discussing at a loss?

How is at a loss used in real life?

At a loss is a common phrase that means to sell something while losing money or to not know what to do or to say.

Try using at a loss!

Is at a loss used correctly in the following sentence? 

The bad news shocked me and all I could do was stand there because I was at a loss about what to do.

How to use at a loss in a sentence