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Borrowed from Latin dēspērātus, past participle of dēspērō (to be without hope).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈdɛsp(ə)ɹət/
  • (file)


desperate (comparative more desperate, superlative most desperate)

  1. In dire need (of something); having a dire need or desire.
    I hadn't eaten in two days and was desperate for food.
    desperate to eat; desperate for attention
  2. Being filled with, or in a state of, despair; hopeless.
    I was so desperate at one point, I even went to see a loan shark.
    • c. 1590–1591, William Shakespeare, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act III, scene ii]:
      Since his exile she hath despised me most,
      Forsworn my company and rail'd at me,
      That I am desperate of obtaining her.
    • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter XVI, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, OCLC 4293071:
      [] She takes the whole thing with desperate seriousness. But the others are all easy and jovial—thinking about the good fare that is soon to be eaten, about the hired fly, about anything.”
    • 2022 January 12, Benedict le Vay, “The heroes of Soham...”, in RAIL, number 948, page 43:
      But signalman Bridges was never to answer driver Gimbert's desperate question. A deafening, massive blast blew the wagon to shreds, the 44 high-explosive bombs exploding like simultaneous hits from the aircraft they should have been dropped from. The station was instantly reduced to bits of debris, and the line to a huge crater.
  3. Beyond hope, leaving little reason for hope; causing despair; extremely perilous.
    a desperate disease;  desperate fortune
  4. Involving or employing extreme measures, without regard to danger or safety; reckless due to hopelessness.
    • 1879, Thomas Babington Macaulay, “GOLDSMITH, Oliver”, in The Encyclopædia Britannica [] [1], Volume X, Ninth edition, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, page 761, column 2:
      In England his flute was not in request; there were no convents; and he was forced to have recourse to a series of desperate expedients.
    • 1904, Clorinda Matto de Turner, Birds Without a Nest: A Story of Indian Life and Priestly Oppression in Peru, page 218:
      “I knew very well that when the Peruvian Indian does anything wrong it is because he is forced to it by oppression and made desperate by abuse,” replied Lucia.
    • 2016, Hans-Martin Sass, Cultures in Bioethics, LIT Verlag Münster, →ISBN, page 239:
      Humankind's global integration makes biological combat a weapon of choice for desperate killers, who are either suicidal or intend to infect others  []
    He dove into the rushing waters in a desperate effort to save her life.
  5. Extremely bad; outrageous, shocking; intolerable.
    • c. 1604–1605, William Shakespeare, “All’s VVell, that Ends VVell”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act I, scene i]:
      a desperate offendress against nature
    • 1876, Thomas Babington Macaulay, “BUNYAN, John”, in The Encyclopædia Britannica [] [2], Volume IV, Ninth edition, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, page 526, column 2:
      The worst that can be laid to the charge of this poor youth, whom it has been the fashion to represent as the most desperate of reprobates, as a village Rochester, is, that he had a great liking for some diversions, quite harmless in themselves, but condemned by the rigid precisians among whom he lived, and for whose opinion he had a great respect.
    • 1898, Longman's Magazine, page 161:
      The letters which were of most importance were in half a dozen languages and in the desperate handwriting of the period. Eminent men in that age thought it - like Hamlet - a baseness to write fair. Often at the end of a page I have []
    • (Can we date this quote?) Stopping Inertia, Dorrance Publishing, →ISBN, page 131:
      She pictured having a boyfriend over and losing him when he saw her desperate taste in shampoo; however, the chances of that happening were slim.
    • 2022 September 2, Irish People Try American-Style Pancakes, circa 8:12:
      Whoever's writing the stuff on this has desperate handwriting, like they must be a doctor...
  6. Intense; extremely intense.
    • 1848 November – 1850 December, William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis. [], volume (please specify |volume=I or II), London: Bradbury and Evans, [], published 1849–1850, OCLC 2057953:
      She enraged some country ladies with three times her money, by a sort of desperate perfection which they found in her.
    • 2022 May 28, Phil McCulty, “Liverpool 0-1 Real Madrid”, in BBC Sport:
      For Liverpool, it capped six days of desperate disappointment after missing out on the Premier League to Manchester City by a single point then losing to this experienced, street-smart Real team.


desperate (plural desperates)

  1. A person in desperate circumstances or who is at the point of desperation, such as a down-and-outer, addict, etc.

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.





  1. plural and definite singular attributive of desperat




  1. second-person plural present active imperative of dēspērō


  • desperate”, in Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (1879) A Latin Dictionary, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • desperate in Gaffiot, Félix (1934) Dictionnaire illustré latin-français, Hachette

Norwegian Bokmål[edit]



  1. definite singular of desperat
  2. plural of desperat

Norwegian Nynorsk[edit]



  1. definite singular of desperat
  2. plural of desperat