Is It Pointless or Futile?

03:09 October 21, 2022

Is It Pointless or Futile?

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question about the difference between “pointless” and “futile.”


Dear teacher,

I am Aiping from California.

I read the article "Who Brings Sand to the Beach?" I wondered what is the difference between the words "pointless" and "futile?"

Thank you! I wish you all the best!

Aiping, your loyal reader.


Dear Aiping,

These two words are often used as synonyms or words that can be used to mean the same thing.

But there are slight differences in usage.

Let’s start with “pointless.”


“Pointless” is an adjective that means having no point, sense or purpose. To be “pointless” is to be without meaning or aim.

For example, we can say:

It is pointless trying to talk to her… She will not listen.

Driving home right now is pointless because traffic is so heavy.

In a game or competition, “pointless” can also mean without a point scored.

The game remained pointless at the end of the first half.


“Futile” is also an adjective. It means not able to produce a desired result. It can mean ineffective or useless.

We worked on the project for hours, but failed to fix the problem. All of our attempts were futile.

Voting for that candidate would be futile as he did not win the nominating election.


The main difference between these two words, is that with “futile” there is a goal or aim that can not be reached by the methods attempted. With “pointless” there is no goal or aim.

Please let us know if these explanations have helped you, Aiping!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at [email protected]

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


beach – n. an area covered with sand or small rocks that is next to an ocean

synonyms – n. a word that is similar in meaning to another word

primary- n. an election in which members of the same political party run against each other for the chance to be in a larger and more important election


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