What word do you use when you are trying to say that you attempted to do or solve something which you know would most probably fail?

For example, I dropped my Nokia off the highest level of the Eiffel Tower. The screen shattered and the phone could not be turned on anymore. In a [word] attempt, I still tried to repair the phone.

In that example, I am not feeling reluctant. I know it's almost impossible to fix that phone but I'm still giving it a shot. What is the word or feeling that I should use?

6 Answers 6


From Google's dictionary (search [ define vain ] )

vain /vān/ adjective 2. producing no result; useless. "a vain attempt to tidy up the room" synonyms: futile, useless, pointless, to no purpose, hopeless, in vain; ineffective, ineffectual, inefficacious, impotent, unavailing, to no avail, fruitless, profitless, unrewarding, unproductive, unsuccessful, failed, abortive, for nothing; thwarted, frustrated, foiled; archaic bootless "a vain attempt"


Consider futile

serving no useful purpose : completely ineffective efforts to convince him were futile


  • ineffectual
  • pointless
  • senseless
  • unavailing
  • fruitless
  • absurd

The first thing that springs to mind would be "In a futile attempt, I still ..." or you could also say "ill-conceived" or "desperate " all which have slightly different connotations.


futile means not having useful result

  • How is your answer different from those of bib and rawbrawb who answered prior to you?
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 6:43
  • 3
    @Jim All three answers appeared within less than 30 seconds.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 8:25

You could have made a 'desperate' attempt to repair the phone. Apologies to @rawbrawb for that. How about 'heroic'?

  • 1
    Unfortunately @rawbrawb has already suggested that solution. You could include either more detail or make different suggestions in your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 10:28

Sisyphean: denoting a task that can never be completed.
Sisyphean Task: a task/chore/duty that is incessant or incessantly recurring, but futile. Aptly titled after the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus who was doomed to endlessly roll a boulder up a hill in Hades as punishment for chronic deceitfulness. His punishment proves futile in terms of completion (finality, resolution, accomplishment(s), etc.) for every time he 'succeeds' in rolling the boulder atop the hill, it would then roll back down the hill, per an enchantment placed on it by Zeus.
Zeus' spell reversing the boulder's momentum proved to be a lifetime sentence of futility, failure, and useless efforts for Sisyphus, preventing him from ever making positive ground in his task.
Thus it came to pass that pointless or interminable activities are sometimes described as Sisyphean and/or Sisyphean Tasks.
possible second solution: "Herding Cats"

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