pa·​thet·​ic | \pə-ˈthe-tik \

Definition of pathetic 

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

2 : marked by sorrow or melancholy : sad

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

4 : absurd, laughable a pathetic costume

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Other Words from pathetic

pathetical \ pə-​ˈthe-​ti-​kəl \ adjective
pathetically \ pə-​ˈthe-​ti-​k(ə-​)lē \ adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Examples of pathetic in a Sentence

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 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 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 The blind, old dog was a pathetic sight. The team was pretty bad last year, but this year they're downright pathetic. The story he told was a pathetic attempt to cover up a lie. His car is a pathetic piece of junk.
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Recent Examples on the Web

As Michael’s quick-witted, self-deprecating humor moves from pleasing to punching to pathetic, so too does Parsons peel back his own charm, leaving him raw and fragile by show’s end. Dave Quinn,, "The Boys in the Band," 1 June 2018 The county elections board reported that 34,317 out of the 140,935 eligible to vote – a pathetic 24.35 percent - did so. The Aegis, "Hard look needed at election problems in Maryland [Editorial]," 12 July 2018 Your story about attractive women not getting hired is truly pathetic. » Think the #MeToo movement is a good thing? Heidi Stevens,, "'You know really nothing about men' and other input about my Tony Robbins column," 11 Apr. 2018 The two-on-one generally involves the season's villain and usually takes place in a remote locale, to make the departing contestant look all the more pathetic. Lisa Bonos,, "On 'The Bachelorette,' Jordan the villain goes home but insecure Chris gets to stay," 26 June 2018 But Giuliani's aspirations to finally be seen as a serious Beltway player, and West's attempts to stay on the top of a rap game that's been won by new geniuses like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar, were not only pathetic. Lorraine Ali,, "Kanye West and Rudy Giuliani: The mouths that recklessly roared," 5 May 2018 So once again, this poor pathetic individual is a liar. Matthew Martinez, star-telegram, "NRA board member Ted Nugent: ‘Mushy-brained’ Parkland shooting survivors ‘have no soul’ | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 31 Mar. 2018 But the sort of behavior that is amusing in a sit-com character like Costanza only comes across as erratic and pathetic in the leader of a superpower. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Like George Costanza, Trump is the master of the sadly belated comeback.," 10 June 2018 What the Bachelorette needs to be above all is a woman the audience wants to root for—pitiable, but not pathetic. Mattie Kahn, Glamour, "Cazzie David Should Be the Next Bachelorette: A Proposal," 10 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pathetic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of pathetic

1591, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pathetic

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

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Statistics for pathetic

Last Updated

2 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for pathetic

The first known use of pathetic was in 1591

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More Definitions for pathetic



English Language Learners Definition of pathetic

: causing feelings of sadness and sympathy

: very bad, poor, weak, etc.


pa·​thet·​ic | \pə-ˈthe-tik \

Kids Definition of pathetic

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

Other Words from pathetic

pathetically adverb

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Comments on pathetic

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


playful or foolish behavior

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