Meaning of “desperate” in the English Dictionary

"desperate" in British English

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uk /ˈdes.pər.ət/ us /ˈdes.pɚ.ət/

desperate adjective (SERIOUS)

C2 very serious or bad:

desperate poverty
a desperate shortage of food/supplies
The situation is desperate - we have no food, very little water and no medical supplies.

very great or extreme:

The earthquake survivors are in desperate need of help.
He has a desperate desire to succeed.
informal I'm in a desperate hurry.

More examples

  • I felt I couldn't cope with the situation and was in desperate need of some reassurance.
  • They spun us a story about being in desperate need of money.
  • Her desperate request for help was met with a rebuff.
  • They spun us a story about being in desperate need of money.
  • This is a desperate situation which requires a truly radical solution.

desperate adjective (WANTING)

B2 [ usually after verb ] needing or wanting something very much:

They are desperate for help.
UK humorous I'm desperate for a drink!
[ + to infinitive ] UK humorous He was desperate to tell someone his good news.

More examples

  • The fashion industry is always desperate to innovate.
  • He seems to have a desperate need to be loved by everyone.
  • As he left the theatre, the singer was set upon by fans desperate for autographs.
  • I was desperate to find a way out of teaching so when this job came along I snatched at it.
  • It was a bit insensitive of Fiona to go on so much about fat people when she knows Mandy is desperate to lose weight.

desperate adjective (RISKY)

B2 feeling that you have no hope and are ready to do anything to change the bad situation you are in:

The doctors made one last desperate attempt/effort to save the boy's life.
Desperate measures are needed to deal with the growing drug problem.
They made a desperate plea for help.

willing to be violent, and therefore dangerous:

This man is desperate and should not be approached since he may have a gun.

More examples

  • It was a desperate attempt to salvage the situation.
  • The government took desperate measures to keep the economy running.
  • I'm not so desperate as to agree to that.
  • Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a desperate attempt to maintain control.
  • Villagers used sandbags in a desperate attempt to save their homes from the flood water.

(Definition of “desperate” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"desperate" in American English

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us /ˈdes·pər·ət/

desperate adjective (RISKY)

showing a willingness to take any risk in order to change a bad or dangerous situation:

The ads are a desperate attempt to win last-minute votes.

A desperate person is willing to take any measures and may be dangerous:

desperate criminals

desperate adjective (SERIOUS)

very serious or dangerous:

There’s a desperate shortage of medical supplies in the area.
The earthquake survivors are in desperate need of help.

desperate adjective (IN NEED)

having a very great need:

She was desperate for news of her family.
I’m desperate for some coffee.

(Definition of “desperate” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)