adjective pa·thet·ic \ pə-ˈthe-tik \
|Updated on: 13 Jul 2018

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


play \pə-ˈthe-ti-kəl\ adjective


play \pə-ˈthe-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. LaphamHarper'sMarch 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. FisherWith Bold Knife and Fork1969
  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 WhartonThe Age of Innocence1920
  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.

Recent Examples of pathetic from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

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 English Language Learners


Definition of pathetic for English Language Learners

  • : causing feelings of sadness and sympathy

  • : very bad, poor, weak, etc.

PATHETIC Defined for Kids


adjective pa·thet·ic \ pə-ˈthe-tik \

Definition of pathetic for Students

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



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