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adjective pa·thet·ic \pə-ˈthe-tik\

Simple Definition of pathetic

  • : causing feelings of sadness and sympathy

  • : very bad, poor, weak, etc.

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of pathetic

  1. 1 :  having a capacity to move one to either compassionate or contemptuous pity

  2. 2 :  marked by sorrow or melancholy :  sad

  3. 3 :  pitifully inferior or inadequate <the restaurant's pathetic service>

  4. 4 :  absurd, laughable <a pathetic costume>

pathetical play \-ti-kəl\ adjective
pathetically play \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

Examples of pathetic in a sentence

  1. The spectacle seen in the theater of the news presented the American President as a failed suppliant instead of a conquering hero—an ailing and pathetic figure dismissed with the smile of pity and the gift of some sweet candies shaped as miniature sculptures of the President's two dogs. —Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's, March 1992

  2. They were brave, and bravely she served them a pathetic meal of nothing but limitless bowls of little potatoes boiled in their jackets … —M.F.K. Fisher, With Bold Knife and Fork, 1969

  3. Her face looked pale and extinguished, as if dimmed by the rich red of her dress. She struck Archer, of a sudden, as a pathetic and even pitiful figure. —Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1920

  4. The blind, old dog was a pathetic sight.

  5. The team was pretty bad last year, but this year they're downright pathetic.

  6. The story he told was a pathetic attempt to cover up a lie.

  7. His car is a pathetic piece of junk.

Origin of pathetic

Middle French or Late Latin; Middle French pathetique, from Late Latin patheticus, from Greek pathētikos capable of feeling, pathetic, from paschein (aor. pathein) to experience, suffer — more at pathos

First Known Use: 1598

Synonym Discussion of pathetic

moving, impressive, poignant, affecting, touching, pathetic mean having the power to produce deep emotion. moving may apply to any strong emotional effect including thrilling, agitating, saddening, or calling forth pity or sympathy <a moving appeal for contributions>. impressive implies compelling attention, admiration, wonder, or conviction <an impressive list of achievements>. poignant applies to what keenly or sharply affects one's sensitivities <a poignant documentary on the homeless>. affecting is close to moving but most often suggests pathos <an affecting deathbed reunion>. touching implies arousing tenderness or compassion <the touching innocence in a child's eyes>. pathetic implies moving to pity or sometimes contempt <pathetic attempts to justify misconduct>.

PATHETIC Defined for Kids


adjective pa·thet·ic \pə-ˈthe-tik\

Definition of pathetic for Students

  1. :  causing feelings of pity, tenderness, or sorrow <“You talk about some pathetic, tortured-looking little faces.” — Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons>

pathetically adverb

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up pathetic? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to dishevel or rumple

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