• synonyms


[des-per-it, -prit]
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  1. reckless or dangerous because of despair, hopelessness, or urgency: a desperate killer.
  2. having an urgent need, desire, etc.: desperate for attention; desperate to find a job.
  3. leaving little or no hope; very serious or dangerous: a desperate illness.
  4. extremely bad; intolerable or shocking: clothes in desperate taste.
  5. extreme or excessive.
  6. making a final, ultimate effort; giving all: a desperate attempt to save a life.
  7. actuated by a feeling of hopelessness.
  8. having no hope; giving in to despair.
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  1. Obsolete. a desperado.
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Origin of desperate

1350–1400; Middle English < Latin dēspērātus, past participle of dēspērāre to despair; see -ate1
Related formsdes·per·ate·ly, adverbdes·per·ate·ness, nounqua·si-des·per·ate, adjectivequa·si-des·per·ate·ly, adverb
Can be confuseddesperate disparate

Synonyms for desperate

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Synonym study

3. See hopeless.

Antonyms for desperate

1. careful. 3, 8. hopeful.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for desperate

daring, dangerous, bold, violent, determined, frantic, furious, frenzied, great, urgent, terrible, fierce, critical, dire, forlorn, vain, futile, despondent, sad, madcap

Examples from the Web for desperate

Contemporary Examples of desperate

Historical Examples of desperate

  • He turned and began to run homewards, like a hunted man in desperate flight.


    William J. Locke

  • Desperate hope in another man's God may do something for us, but it cannot do much.

  • In this desperate situation he determined to send a written despatch to Athens.

  • It may be, however, that matters are not so desperate as they appear.

    Main Street

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • "You're a desperate fellow," she said, half scared, and she laughed a little.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

British Dictionary definitions for desperate


  1. careless of danger, as from despair; utterly reckless
  2. (of an act) reckless; risky
  3. used or undertaken in desperation or as a last resortdesperate measures
  4. critical; very gravein desperate need
  5. (often postpositive and foll by for) in distress and having a great need or desire
  6. moved by or showing despair or hopelessness; despairing
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Derived Formsdesperately, adverbdesperateness, noun

Word Origin for desperate

C15: from Latin dēspērāre to have no hope; see despair
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

Word Origin and History for desperate


early 15c., "despairing, hopeless," from Latin desperatus "given up, despaired of," past participle of desperare (see despair (v.)). Sense of "driven to recklessness" is from late 15c.; weakened sense of "having a great desire for" is from 1950s. Related: Desperately.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper