What Does Forlorn Hope Mean?

Forlorn Hope Meaning

Definition: A task or endeavor with little to no change of success; a lost cause.

Origin of Forlorn Hope

This expression first appeared into English in the 1500s. It originally described a group of soldiers who would attack first, before anyone else. Because they were the first into battle, they had little chance of surviving. This wave of troops were considered an expendable group.

The expression itself comes from the Dutch expression verloren hoop, which means a lost troop of soldiers. Again, it had connotations of an expendable squad of soldiers.

A mistranslation into English, however, turned the phrase into forlorn hope. The British mistook hoop for hope and changed the meaning of the expression to a desperate undertaking, showing that even phrases with seemingly straightforward meanings have interesting histories and stories behind them.

Over time (from the 1600s onward), the military usage became less common, and forlorn hope became anything that was almost hopeless.

Examples of Forlorn Hope

forlorn hope definition This example shows two women discussing their teenage children.

Bella: I’m so annoyed with my 13-year-old son.

Hannah: Why?

Bella: He always acts like his father and I are so embarrassing to him.

Hannah: My 15-year-old daughter acts the same way. I think all teenagers do that.

Bella: I know. I’ve always heard that teenagers do that, but my son was so sweet as a younger child. I had this forlorn hope that he would always stay that way.

Hannah: Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll act that way again someday.

Bella: Maybe, but it sure doesn’t seem like it now.

what is the definition of forlorn The following example shows two college students whispering to each other in class.

Hanh: This teacher gave me a D- on this essay!

Zhongyi: I know. Mine isn’t much better. I only got a D.

Hanh: I can’t believe how hard it is to get a good grade in this class. I never would have signed up for this course if I had known it was so hard!

Zhongyi: Yeah. I did know it was hard, but I took it anyway.

Hanh: Why would you do that?

Zhongyi: I had a forlorn hope that even though it was hard for everybody else, I’d be super talented, and it would be easy for me. I guess I was wrong.

More Examples

The excerpt is from an article about a stadium that had no one visit on opening day.

  • “The Stadium Tuesday morning was like the house of a deserted and lonely woman who keeps the floors polished and the furniture dusted in the forlorn hope that her man will come home,” reporter Alicia Armstrong wrote in a story in the April 12, 1966, Milwaukee Journal. “It was opening day for the Braves, but the beloved team was with a new sweetheart, Atlanta.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The second example is from an article about boxing. One boxer thought he would have an easy win, but he was wrong.

  • Pacquiao went into the fight an overwhelming favorite and quickly set about stamping his authority on the proceedings. Algieri had planned on his extra reach and sharp footwork keeping him out of harm’s way and tire the 35-year-old, but it quickly proved to be a forlorn hope. –USA Today


The expression forlorn hope is a feeling that something might happen, despite the fact that it is doomed to not happen.