I am looking for an English word I can use sometimes in place of helpless. I have the word in my language, but I am not able to find it in English.

The word which we say sometimes if we feel that we can't do anything as we don't have control over it, or if you have to do something as you have no choice left, or you have to do it because if you don't someone will kill you.

Something like:

I am sorry my friend I didn't want to do it, but I was _____.

  • 1
    Its better, in emotional situation, to express yourself in more than just a one-word expression. People tend to use more words in remorseful or apologetic situations or simply to be polite :).
    – Jamie
    Jul 8, 2011 at 13:26

11 Answers 11


I think there are many options, depending on the context. For example, you could use paralyzed. It works in some contexts, but not with the example you gave. In that case you may have to use something like

  • I didn't have a choice.
  • There was no other option.
  • My hands were tied.
  • You are exactly right but i want one word for hands were tied. ALso I want to use that word in We humans sometimes have so many powerlessnesses. But I want that word in plural form here.
    – user824981
    Jul 8, 2011 at 6:52

How about:


As in:

I'm sorry my friend, that I didn't do it, but I was powerless to do so.

  • +1 for powerless; not so sure about impotent, though... I would associate that word more with ineptitude or uselessness, than with helplessness. Jul 8, 2011 at 5:53
  • Ok. I've removed impotent as it seems to have different connotations. :)
    – Thursagen
    Jul 8, 2011 at 6:18
  • @brachomonacho: impotent does work here, but it does indeed also have a rather different connotation.
    – psmears
    Jul 8, 2011 at 7:43
  • @psmears, what do you mean?
    – Thursagen
    Jul 8, 2011 at 7:52
  • 1
    I mean that (as confirmed by the dictionary) it can mean helpless, as required (definition 1a), but also has another common meaning (definition 1b), which might in some cases lead to awkward confusion :-)
    – psmears
    Jul 8, 2011 at 8:35

The legal or legalistic phrase for when one is coerced to do something is "under duress":

 She signed the agreement under duress.

If you fail to do something, it might be because you were powerless to do it, as suggested above. Powerlessness explains inaction. But if you do take some action, one that harms another for example, it doesn't sound right to say "I did it because I was powerless to do otherwise"-- if inaction was available as a choice, or if the action taken is a clear act of volition.

"The assailant came at me brandishing a knife. I fired my gun. I had no choice."

"You gave me no choice -- you were selling drugs to children and I had to turn you in to the police when you refused to stop."

I don't know of a single adjective that carries the full force of "having only one choice", that is, having no choice at all but rather an obligation. These words nip at the edges: "obliged", "bound", "constrained", "obligated", "compelled".


"Constrained", or "under constraint" will sometimes do what you want.


I am sorry my friend. I didn't want to do it, but I was coerced. (Someone made me do it.)

I am sorry my friend. I didn't want to do it, but I was obliged. (There was a requirement: religious, moral, lawful, or social obligation)

I am sorry my friend. I didn't want to do it, but I had no other choice. (I didn't want to do it, but circumstances necessitated that I do it.)


another word that comes to mind is compelled

  • You should make clear that "compelled" is suitable only for some of the situations in the question; i.e. "if you have to do something". It is not suitable if "can't do anything".
    – TrevorD
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:23
  • Unless I'm misinterpreting your comment I'm not sure that's correct. You can 'feel' compelled without the necessity of extrinsic compulsion factors - no?
    – user49727
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:53
  • I agree that there don't have to be external factors. You can feel "compelled to do something". OP also asked for a word that would cover "if we feel that we can't do anything as we don't have control over it". Other answers suggested powerless or constrained for that option. I'm saying that I don't think you can use "compelled" to mean "we can't do anything as we don't have control over it".
    – TrevorD
    Aug 16, 2013 at 15:53
  • Once again I'm not sure that's true - I don't see a problem with using compelled in the context you describe
    – user49727
    Aug 16, 2013 at 15:58
  • Give me an example.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 16, 2013 at 16:00
  • stymied (implies that a specific obstacle blocks you)
  • baffled (implies not only blocked but confused)
  • frustrated (implies emotional agitation as well)
  • constrained (implies limited options)
  • exhausted (implies physical tiredness)
  • feckless (implies habitual uselessness)
  • impuissant (French, literally impotent but without that 1b connotation @psmears was worried about)

The OP is probably better off using the idiomatic expressions suggested by @bfavaretto. My first suggestion also has the meaning the OP required but if a noun is needed, consider the following ones:

I am sorry my friend I didn't want to do it, but I was forced to.

The word, pawn, is defined by Cambridge Dictionary Online as being "a person who does not have any real power but is used by others to achieve something"

I am sorry my friend I didn't want to do it, I was but a pawn.

Will-less; of a person, lacking volition, not exercising one's will

I am sorry my friend I didn't want to do it, but I was will-less.


The best word appears to be helpless, but you may use choiceless/optionless as an alternative.

I am sorry my friend; I didn't want to do it, but I was choiceless/optionless.



from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License:
adj. without a choice

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia:
Not having the power of choosing; destitute of free will.

Example: Much of what's wrong is related to powerless taxpayers and choiceless consumers funding companies that deliver crap products and services at high prices. [Moving Forward on Health Care - Swampland - TIME.com]

Example of optionless:
That's a sad situation, but doesn't leave you optionless. [Hillary Rettig: Your Best New Year's Resolution: Do Less Housework!]


optionless ADJECTIVE

Having no options or choices.


If you are pressured into doing something undesirable but factors conspired against you, you can say:

I was railroaded



How about


So it something like

I am sorry my friend I didn't want to do it, but I was unaided.

Or sometime might work coercible or unassisted

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