pa·​thos ˈpā-ˌthäs How to pronounce pathos (audio)
-ˌthōs How to pronounce pathos (audio)
 also  ˈpa-
: an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion
: an emotion of sympathetic pity

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Pathos Entered English in the 1500s

The Greek word páthos means "experience, misfortune, emotion, condition,” and comes from Greek path-, meaning “experience, undergo, suffer.” In English, pathos usually refers to the element in an experience or in an artistic work that makes us feel compassion, pity, or sympathy. The word is a member of a big family: empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Pathetic (in its gentlest uses) describes things that move us to pity. Though pathology is not literally "the study of suffering," it is "the study of diseases." Other relatives of pathos include sympathy, apathy, and antipathy.

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Related The song is powered by an equally nostalgic requinto that amplifies the song’s pathos and Becky’s raw and powerful vocals. Leila Cobo, Billboard, 15 Sep. 2023 There is a pathos and yearning in Calliope that rivals any Judy Holliday performance. Dana Delany Published, Peoplemag, 1 Sep. 2023 In an effort to bring Marino’s contributions to The Other Two their proper due, here are four instances where his presence heightened the show’s humor and pathos, and made yet another case for giving the man his flowers. Kenny Herzog, Vulture, 2 June 2023 And while there’s genuine pathos in that history, Lothian balances it out with humor. Time, 24 Aug. 2023 Haley’s opening remarks, which attacked the Trump Administration for having swelled the deficit, seemed to capture the pathos of Pence’s position. Benjamin Wallace-Wells, The New Yorker, 24 Aug. 2023 Starting off as this kind of lovable goofball and then finding this real pathos in him over the seasons and then ending it with this really changed, flawed person was just really tremendous. Esther Zuckerman, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Aug. 2023 The material about everyone’s psychological damage is very effective — even the mostly juvenile and narcissistic Ben gets a few moments of genuine, affecting pathos. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 7 Aug. 2023 His only major interview since the boycott began came last month during a CBS morning show that ducked asking hard questions in favor of pathos. Bychristiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 27 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pathos.' 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 Greek páthos "experience, misfortune, emotion, condition," noun derivative of a verbal base path- "experience, undergo, suffer" (present páschō, páschein, aorist épathon), 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).

First Known Use

1591, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of pathos was in 1591


Dictionary Entries Near pathos

Cite this Entry

“Pathos.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


: an element in life or in artistic representation of it that moves one to pity
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