pa·​thos | \ ˈpā-ˌthäs How to pronounce pathos (audio) , -ˌthȯs, -ˌthōs also ˈpa- How to pronounce pathos (audio) \

Definition of pathos

1 : an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion
2 : an emotion of sympathetic pity

Keep scrolling for more

Pathos Entered English in the 1500s

The Greek word pathos means "suffering," "experience," or "emotion." It was borrowed into English in the 16th century, and for English speakers, the term usually refers to the emotions produced by tragedy or a depiction of tragedy. "Pathos" has quite a few kin in English. A "pathetic" sight moves us to pity. "Empathy" is the ability to feel the emotions of another. Though "pathology" is not literally "the study of suffering," it is "the study of diseases." You can probably guess at more relatives of "pathos." "Sympathy," "apathetic," "antipathy," "sociopath," and "psychopath" are a few.

Examples of pathos in a Sentence

There is a pathos to the deflated certainties that left the Washington lawyer Leonard Garment weeping, inconsolable, outside the Senate chamber as the debate was ended. — Garry Wills, New York Times Book Review, 10 Sept. 1989 Many schools at the end of the Depression were poor, but the threadbare nature of Christchurch was almost Dickensian in its pathos. — William Styron, This Quiet Dust and Other Writings, (1953) 1982 The struggle back to solvency was arduous, and the stubborn determination and reserves of strength that it called forth from him in his mid-forties made him all at once a figure of considerable pathos and heroism in my eyes, a cross of a kind between Captain Ahab and Willy Loman. — Philip Roth, Reading Myself and Others, (1961) 1975 Our knowledge of his tragic end adds an element of pathos to the story of his early success.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Yekutiel read with dramatic pauses, with finger pointing, with pathos. Steve Rubenstein,, "Reading between the redactions — the Mueller report, live in San Francisco," 6 June 2019 Both guys are great, just great, though Monaghan gets my nod for range and pathos. John Timpane,, "McCarter's 'Stones in His Pockets': Ireland, fantasy and reality," 22 Jan. 2018 The show has its flaws, but Preacher leans into the crazy without apology, achieving a perfect tonal mix of horror, humor, and pathos. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Preacher ends third season with a pop, not a bang," 28 Aug. 2018 With her mother watching from the crowd, Gaga accepted her award with a mix of humor and pathos that had the entirety of Cipriani tearing up. Keaton Bell, Vogue, "A Star Was Born When Lady Gaga Won Big at Last Night’s National Board of Review Awards," 9 Jan. 2019 With citizens acting as their own press secretaries, some take the approach of presenting enviable perfection and others of pouring out intimate pathos. Judith Martin, WSJ, "‘Betty Ford’ Review: A Number-One First Lady," 12 Sep. 2018 Steve Coogan, as a flamboyant TV star, and Paul Rudd, as the straight man (so to speak), have great fun playing a bickering couple in the movie, which has a little pathos — and a lot of camp. 6:30 p.m. June 23, Castro. David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle, "Frameline offers movie feast during Pride Week," 14 June 2018 The Fringe Factor: Mesrobian carefully lays the groundwork for a plot twist that infiltrates the show in its third act, but the laugh supply falls dangerously low as pathos takes over. Matthew J. Palm,, "Review: Callbacks - Fringe 2018," 14 May 2018 There are few villains on the show; even Squidward, SpongeBob’s perpetually grouchy neighbor, is allowed his fair share of pathos. James Freeman, WSJ, "‘Relentless Optimism and Fundamental Sweetness’," 27 Nov. 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of pathos

1591, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pathos

borrowed from Greek páthos "experience, misfortune, emotion, condition," noun derivative of a verbal base path- "experience, undergo, suffer" (present páschō, páschein), going back to *p(h)nth-, zero ablaut grade of a base seen also in pénthos "grief, sorrow," of uncertain origin

Note: The Greek verb has been compared with Lithuanian kentù, kę͂sti "to undergo, suffer" (assuming that t for d is secondary) and Old Irish césaid "(s/he) suffers, endures" (< *kwendh-s-?), though this would require Indo-European *kwendh-, with a normally unacceptable combination of voiceless stop and voiced aspirated stop in a single root. Alternatively, Greek path-, penth- has been explained as an idiosyncratic semantic development of Indo-European *bhendh- "bind" ("be bound" > "suffer"?) (see bind entry 1).

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about pathos

Listen to Our Podcast about pathos

Statistics for pathos

Last Updated

17 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for pathos

The first known use of pathos was in 1591

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for pathos



English Language Learners Definition of pathos

literary : a quality that causes people to feel sympathy and sadness

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on pathos

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pathos

Spanish Central: Translation of pathos

Nglish: Translation of pathos for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pathos for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about pathos

Comments on pathos

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


a device or gadget

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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