What is a word to describe the situation in which there is no alternative or something cannot be helped?

I am looking for a neutral word, similar to impotent, instead of the slightly negative helpless, grudgingly, willy-nilly or nolens volens.

For example, how do we describe this situation?

The teacher's lecture is dull, but I have to sit there and listen. I have no choice.

In Japan the (-.-) icon is used in text messaging and in Chinese 無奈 is used to describe this.

  • 4
    It would help if you gave the context of the word or the situation that you want to describe. – Irene Nov 22 '11 at 13:34
  • Does "impotent" in its literal meaning help you? – Raku Nov 22 '11 at 13:46

Hummm...you might be looking for inevitable:

Adjective: Certain to happen; unavoidable: war was inevitable.

Noun: A situation that is unavoidable.

Synonyms: unavoidable - inescapable - ineluctable - necessary

  • +1 (on a hunch; the question is still not clear in my opinion) – Unreason Nov 22 '11 at 14:53

I get the impression that you're looking for the English equivalent of what in Japanese would be termed shikatanai (仕方ない).

This phrase is usually translated as "it can't be helped" or simply as "unavoidable". Since you are looking for just one word I would suggest unavoidable, which has a neutral connotations, or its synonym inevitable.

Note, however, that translations of shikatanai into English are very context dependent. In the example sentence you used (The teacher's lecture is dull, but I have to sit there and listen. I have no choice) I would not use "unavoidable" or "inevitable". In fact, in that sentence I think a case could be made for saying that the word "have" already implies that it is unavoidable. If you would want to emphasize the "shikatanai-ness" of that specific situation I would simply write it as "The teacher's lecture is dull but I have to sit there and listen. It can't be helped."

Not a very satisfying answer, I know, but I do believe it is accurate to say that there is simply no one word in English that can be applied to as broad a spectrum of situations as the Chinese 无奈 or the Japanese 仕方ない. It really does depend heavily on the context.


Maybe not the best possible example, but I am perforce moved to write this...

perforce - by necessity; by force of circumstance

In OP's example, The teacher's lecture is dull, but I must perforce sit there and listen.

I think it's fair to say that perforce is at the very least formal, and some might say it's becoming dated. I'm not sure exactly how informal willy-nilly is, or how much the original willing or not meaning has been supplanted by the later sense of haphazard, but it's certainly still current.


Your example,

I have to sit there and listen. I have no choice.

can be rewritten with must or compelled; e.g.

I must sit there and listen. I have no choice.

I am compelled to sit there and listen. I have no choice.

By the way, another word to add to your "not like" list might be volitionless, lacking volition, volition being "mental power or ability of choosing; the will." For example,

Volitionless, I'm compelled to sit and listen.

  • I'm sorry! I didn't notice your answer. I said something nearly identical. Am deleting mine, up voting yours. – Ellie Kesselman Dec 11 '11 at 20:14

Maybe you're looking for the notion of "binding", which is at the same time means imperative/compulsory and limiting/constraining.

"I'm (feeling) bound to sit here till it's over, can't help it."

You can use it like "a binding situation" as well. Bounden is also a word, as in "My bounden duty." Of similar meaning is incumbency.

And then there is impendency, as in impending doom, which is something also bound to happen but in the close future--like the words fated, fateful and fixed.


I suggest constrained over perforce. Constrained does not carry the specific connotation of force. It simply means limited by circumstances.

  • Just because perforce includes the root word "force" doesn't mean using it implies physical coercion. The only difference is constrained emphasises more that you can't deviate from some (effectively, forced) response. – FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 19:06

You are not as clear as you could be, but I have a feeling that you are looking for the antonym of alternative.

This is necessity.

Necessity is neutral in the sense of reluctance (it is used for things you try to avoid and for things you wish for).

  • but neccessity is something you are ok with. how about something you want to do something with it but you cannot, though you are not particularly upset when you cannot change the situation? – Anastasia Nov 22 '11 at 14:40
  • If it would be necessary for you to amputate a limb I doubt that you would be ok with that; still you set the terms and necessity and necessary might be to strong? You know, even with the clarifications in the question it is still not so clear what are you after, is it kind of indifference in an unavoidable situation? Look at FumbleFingers answer and try to expand the question further, with an example of the sentence where you would actually use it. – Unreason Nov 22 '11 at 14:51

You might describe yourself as being subject to (or subjected to) something (e.g., your teacher's lecture).

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