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 As Ottone, countertenor Iestyn Davies was the most stylish of the singers, and his lament, midway through the opera, as everyone deserts him, was the first—and last—moment of pathos in the evening. Heidi Waleson, WSJ, "‘Eurydice’ and ‘Agrippina’ Reviews: Voices Lost and Found," 7 Feb. 2020 Everyone involved is as sharp and nimble as the whiplash-inducing script, with Song Kang Ho and Cho Yeo Jeong in particular adding fantastic levels of pathos. Thomas Page, CNN, "Get up to speed on this year's Oscar nominees for best international feature film," 7 Feb. 2020 Banks’s pathos matches that shown to Kennisha — a remarkable feat of storytelling that Just Mercy never achieves with its pathetic hillbilly perjurer (Tim Blake Nelson). Armond White, National Review, "Just Mercy Proves Art Is Not Activism," 24 Jan. 2020 Jordan is the calm, quiet anchor of the film, his kind eyes radiating pathos. Mark Kennedy, Detroit Free Press, "Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx shine in ‘Just Mercy’," 9 Jan. 2020 Jordan is the calm, quiet anchor of the film, his kind eyes radiating pathos. NBC News, "Review: Jordan and Foxx shine in urgent drama 'Just Mercy'," 30 Dec. 2019 Jolie plays Maleficent’s struggle to connect both for laughs — yikes, those fangs! — and pathos., "Angelina Jolie is back as Maleficent — and Michelle Pfeiffer better watch out - The Boston Globe," 17 Oct. 2019 This ability was based on intangible factors that caused Lyers to actually perceive pathos as having long noses, a dead giveaway. Quanta Magazine, "The Bulldogs That Bulldogs Fight," 17 Apr. 2019 Hudson’s pathos is operatic in its extravagance, reverberant even in its silences. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "“Cats” Could Have Been a Contender," 27 Dec. 2019

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

Time Traveler for pathos

Time Traveler

The first known use of pathos was in 1591

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about pathos

Statistics for pathos

Last Updated

11 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Pathos.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for pathos


How to pronounce pathos (audio) How to pronounce pathos (audio)

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).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

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!