Definition of desperate in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈdesp(ə)rət/


1Feeling, showing, or involving a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with: a desperate sadness enveloped Ruth
More example sentences
  • Obviously this risks failure to treat in situations that are desperate but not hopeless.
  • There are millions just like them, inhabiting the depths of poverty and hopelessness, suicidal and desperate.
  • Trying to live up to the impossible hype, the desperate clamour.
despairing, hopeless;
anguished, distressed, wretched, desolate, forlorn, distraught, fraught;
out of one's mind, at one's wits' end, beside oneself, at the end of one's rope/tether
1.1(Of an act or attempt) tried in despair or when everything else has failed; having little hope of success: drugs used in a desperate attempt to save his life
More example sentences
  • Charles took this desperate act in an attempt to reinforce his position in Germany.
  • In a last, desperate act to save himself, James looked at his watch and pretended to be shocked.
  • Because of this realism, though, the final desperate act of the movie is unlikely.
last-ditch, last-gasp, eleventh-hour, do-or-die, final;
frantic, frenzied, wild;
futile, hopeless, doomed
1.2(Of a situation) extremely bad, serious, or dangerous: there is a desperate shortage of teachers
More example sentences
  • Well Lane was the most dangerous, and was an extremely fast road in desperate need of a pedestrian crossing, she said.
  • ‘No-one would leave their house and family if they were not in a desperate situation, in danger of their life,’ he says.
  • Private firms are cashing in on the desperate shortage of school teachers.
grave, serious, critical, acute, risky, precarious;
dire, awful, terrible, dreadful;
urgent, pressing, crucial, vital, drastic, extreme
informal chronic
1.3 [predicative] (Of a person) having a great need or desire for something: I am desperate for a cigarette [with infinitive]: the government is desperate to clean up Rio’s streets
More example sentences
  • I was so desperate for the object of my craving that I almost blurted out, ‘Are you going to buy that?’
  • They were desperate for somebody to do something.
  • ‘We are desperate for community facilities in the area and here we have something that works, so we should just leave it alone,’ he told the meeting.
in great need of, urgently requiring, in want of;
eager for, longing for, yearning for, hungry for, crying out for
informal dying for
1.4(Of a person or fight) violent or dangerous: a desperate criminal a desperate struggle
More example sentences
  • The Narcotics Branch arrested a desperate criminal.
  • And it's blowing the lid off of everything that experts believe about the most desperate and dangerous people on earth.
  • The only person that would commit such a deed would be a desperate criminal, accustomed to a life of outlawry.
violent, dangerous, lawless;
reckless, rash, hasty, impetuous, foolhardy, incautious, hazardous, risky;


desperate diseases must have desperate remedies

proverb Extreme measures are justified as a response to a difficult or dangerous situation.



Pronunciation: /ˈdesp(ə)rətnəs/
Example sentences
  • She showed the desperateness of suffering, a woman's incredible patience with injustice and finally, a lowbrow grace that is not common in a world filled with pretensions.
  • And then we looked at each other for just a moment, one still moment, before the desperateness took over and we were clinging to each other as tightly as we dared.
  • Sally begged and there was desperateness in her tone.


Late Middle English (in the sense 'in despair'): from Latin desperatus 'deprived of hope', past participle of desperare (see despair).

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: des·per·ate

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