pa·​thet·​ic pə-ˈthe-tik How to pronounce pathetic (audio)
: having a capacity to move one to either compassionate or contemptuous pity
: marked by sorrow or melancholy : sad
: pitifully inferior or inadequate
the restaurant's pathetic service
: absurd, laughable
a pathetic costume
pathetical adjective
pathetically 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.
Recent Examples on the Web His pathetic anger parallels Allen’s regrettable career trajectory. Armond White, National Review, 5 Apr. 2024 The years-long grudge the swans hold against their former friend devolves into a P.R. war to be won by whoever seems the least pathetic. Inkoo Kang, The New Yorker, 1 Feb. 2024 After all, his father worked himself into the grave for his son—a decision that now strikes Cyrus as pathetic, even enraging. Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, 13 Mar. 2024 An election cash cow The GOP is in pathetic shape in California. Mark Z. Barabak, The Mercury News, 3 Mar. 2024 But his defensive, pathetic apology was character revealing: A likely lie (validated on video) about the youth announcer cursing him. Los Angeles Times, 24 Feb. 2024 If your opponent has a tough day and strikes out in four lines, even a pathetic score of 1/30 could still lead to victory. Peter Blair, New York Times, 19 Feb. 2024 But, being your boss’s sycophantic sidekick is arguably more questionable, if not pathetic (especially in the eyes of others). Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Forbes, 28 Feb. 2024 Jokes about lockdown masking, Biden’s age, the pathetic Democrats — and more masking. Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times, 23 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pathetic.' 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 & Late Latin; Middle French pathetique "provoking emotion," borrowed from Late Latin pathēticus "affecting the emotions," borrowed from Greek pathētikós "capable of feeling, emotional, receptive, passive," from pathētós "subject to suffering, liable to external influence" (verbal adjective from the base path- "experience, undergo, suffer") + -ikos -ic entry 1 — more at pathos

First Known Use

1591, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of pathetic was in 1591

Dictionary Entries Near pathetic

Cite this Entry

“Pathetic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


pa·​thet·​ic pə-ˈthet-ik How to pronounce pathetic (audio)
: causing one to feel tenderness, pity, or sorrow
pathetically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on pathetic

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!