ap·​a·​thy ˈa-pə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio)
: lack of feeling or emotion : impassiveness
drug abuse leading to apathy and depression
: lack of interest or concern : indifference
political apathy

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How Apathy Differs From Impassivity and Indifference

Apathy, impassivity, and indifference all denote a lack of responsiveness to something that might normally excite interest or emotion. Apathy suggests a puzzling or deplorable inertness or lack of passion, as in “the problem of continued voter apathy.” Impassivity stresses the absence of any external sign of emotion in action or facial expression, as in “teachers frustrated by the impassivity of their students.” Indifference connotes a lack of interest in or concern about something, as in “the company’s apparent indifference to the needs of its employees.”

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The Greek Origins of Apathy

There's no reason to be uncaring about the origins of apathy—though there is a clue to the word's beginnings in this sentence. Apathy was borrowed into English in the late 16th century from Greek apatheia, which itself comes from the adjective apathēs, meaning "without feeling." Apathēs, in turn, was formed by combining the negating prefix a- with pathos, meaning "emotion." Incidentally, if you've guessed that pathos is the source of the identically spelled noun in English (meaning either "an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion" or "an emotion of sympathetic pity"), you are correct. Pathos also gave us such words as antipathy, empathy, sympathy, pathetic, and even the archaic word pathematic ("emotional").

Examples of apathy in a Sentence

That's the danger of a teeming cast of … characters: they get jumbled in the viewer's mind, and … apathy ensues. Novels can afford a rich banquet of personalities; it's what readers sign up for. But ratiocination isn't welcome in modern movies, which prefer visceral impact over intellect. Richard Corliss, Time, 20 Oct. 2008
But short of such complete apathy, there are other neurological conditions in which the capacity for genuine emotion is compromised. One sees this in some forms of autism, in the "flat affect" of some schizophrenics.  … But here, as with Harry, music can often break through, if only in a limited way or for a brief time, and release seemingly normal emotions. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia, 2008
According to the polls, "the American people, as opposed to some of their leaders, seek no converts to their ideology." And they are not "cultural imperialists." Maybe not. But this reserve seems grounded less in humility (60 percent of Americans consider their culture "superior to others") than in apathy. Robert Wright, New York Times Book Review, 14 May 2006
The result could well be further inequality of political information, with avid followers of politics becoming ever more knowledgeable while the rest of the public slips deeper into political apathy. Martin P. Wattenberg, Atlantic, October 1998
People have shown surprising apathy toward these important social problems. People have shown a surprising apathy toward these problems. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Barbara Berkowitz, who is an officer at the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation and worked personally with Taylor for years, reflected on the significance of the evening, naming apathy as the biggest challenge facing HIV/AIDS awareness right now. Caroline Brew, Variety, 22 Sep. 2023 What started out as indifference and apathy soon curdled into obstinance, willful ignorance and corruption. Robert Kolker, New York Times, 19 Oct. 2023 By nurturing apathy and frustration with the war in non-Western capitals, Moscow hopes that other countries will join its ranks or at the very least distance themselves from the West. Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte, Foreign Affairs, 1 Sep. 2023 Brad Bannon, who heads a political polling and consulting firm that works for Democratic candidates, said the deal could cause some apathy for Biden among young voters. Jim Puzzanghera, BostonGlobe.com, 12 June 2023 As people began to learn of Issue 1, some panicked, worried that apathy would, indeed, allow this terrible amendment to pass. Cquinn, cleveland, 12 Aug. 2023 Ecuadorian voters have high levels of apathy, dissatisfaction, and mistrust of the political system, with up to 60% of the population not knowing the names of the candidates, according to experts. Tara John, CNN, 11 Aug. 2023 Devi Shastri, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel From apathy to all in DES MOINES, Iowa – Mary Arthur did not bother to get out of bed before logging into her high school’s online classes during the fall of 2020. USA Today, 7 June 2023 The lack of action outside the Senate chamber is indicative of the public’s view, or apathy, about Paxton and the trial. Gromer Jeffers Jr., Dallas News, 5 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'apathy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French apathie, borrowed from Latin apathīa, borrowed from Greek apatheîa, noun derivative of apathḗs "not suffering, without passion or feeling, impassive," from a- a- entry 2 + -pathēs, adjective derivative of páthos "experience, misfortune, emotion" — more at pathos

First Known Use

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of apathy was in 1594


Dictionary Entries Near apathy

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


ap·​a·​thy ˈap-ə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio)
: lack of feeling or of interest

Medical Definition


ap·​a·​thy ˈap-ə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio)
plural apathies
: lack of feeling or emotion

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