piety

noun
pi·​e·​ty | \ ˈpī-ə-tē How to pronounce piety (audio) \
plural pieties

Definition of piety

1 : the quality or state of being pious: such as
a : fidelity to natural obligations (as to parents)
b : dutifulness in religion : devoutness
2 : an act inspired by piety
3 : a conventional belief or standard : orthodoxy

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Synonyms & Antonyms for piety

Synonyms

Antonyms

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Choose the Right Synonym for piety

fidelity, allegiance, fealty, loyalty, devotion, piety mean faithfulness to something to which one is bound by pledge or duty. fidelity implies strict and continuing faithfulness to an obligation, trust, or duty. marital fidelity allegiance suggests an adherence like that of citizens to their country. pledging allegiance fealty implies a fidelity acknowledged by the individual and as compelling as a sworn vow. fealty to the truth loyalty implies a faithfulness that is steadfast in the face of any temptation to renounce, desert, or betray. valued the loyalty of his friends devotion stresses zeal and service amounting to self-dedication. a painter's devotion to her art piety stresses fidelity to obligations regarded as natural and fundamental. filial piety

The Complicated Uses of Pious

Pious has a bit of an image problem. From the beginning of its use in the 15th century this Latin descendant has been used to describe those who are simply very religious—that is, who are deeply devoted to their religion—but it has for centuries also described those who make a show of their religiousness and use it to assert their superiority. We see both in literature:

She sent for a minister, too, a serious, pious, good man, and applied herself with such earnestness, by his assistance, to the work of a sincere repentance, that I believe, and so did the minister too, that she was a true penitent….
— Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, 1722

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday's liberty for the rest.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

Over the years other meanings have developed too. Pious can be used positively to describe those who are dutiful or virtuous, or things that are worthy. And it can be used negatively to describe hypocrisy. It is also used neutrally to distinguish what is religious from what is nonreligious in content, as in this humorous excerpt from Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights:

Joseph was an elderly, nay, an old man—very old, perhaps, though hale and sinewy. "The Lord help us!" he soliloquized in an undertone of peevish displeasure, while relieving me of my horse, looking, meantime, in my face so sourly that I charitably conjectured he must have need of divine aid to digest his dinner, and his pious ejaculation had no reference to my unexpected advent.

Because the word is about religion and religiousness, many associate pious with the Bible. It is, however, wholly absent from many translations of the Bible, probably because of its ambiguous meaning. Pious is, though, included in The New Revised Standard Version and the paraphrasing Living Bible, among a number of others:

The blessing of the Lord is the reward of the pious, and quickly God causes his blessing to flourish.
— Sirach 11:22, New Revised Standard Version

You try to look like saintly men, but underneath those pious robes of yours are hearts besmirched with every sort of hypocrisy and sin.
— Matthew 23:28, The Living Bible

Piety, which most often refers to simple religious devotion, doesn't have the same problem, and is more widely used in biblical translations.

Examples of piety in a Sentence

He was admired for his extreme piety. her piety is quiet but profound
Recent Examples on the Web Theology has been constricted to be only about personal piety, disconnected from claims of social justice. Daniel Burke, CNN, "This is a moment of reckoning on race for white Christians," 19 June 2020 Many devout Muslims consider Jokowi too secular in his outlook and of dubious piety. The Economist, "Viral marketing Indonesia’s president has a new rival," 4 June 2020 That one makes a great show of piety, said the nun in my ear. Emma Donoghue, The Atlantic, "The Blood Tax," 12 May 2020 With his usual combination of down-to-earth wisdom and practical piety, Luther insisted that preachers and pastors should remain at their posts. N.t. Wright, Time, "Should Churches Reopen? The Answer Lies in Thinking of This As a Time of Exile," 21 May 2020 Certainly, the Federalist enjoys tweaking liberal pieties, and engaging in crass and condemnable behavior. Charles Bethea, The New Yorker, "The Federalist as “Medical Journal” in the Time of the Coronavirus," 12 Apr. 2020 Evelyn Waugh’s late Sword of Honour trilogy (1952–1961) strikes notes of piety, mercy, and pity found nowhere else in his fiction. M. D. Aeschliman, National Review, "Two Plagues in Lombardy," 11 Apr. 2020 Offences include even the most innocuous forms of piety, such as sporting long beards. The Economist, "From slammer to serfdom What happens when China’s Uighurs are released from re-education camps," 5 Mar. 2020 For Mauve, the ceremony of the blood is a perfect symbol for the peculiarly Neapolitan combination of piety, superstition, and fatalism. Michael Hardy, Wired, "In Naples, Faith Substitutes for What Science Can’t Foresee," 28 Feb. 2020

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

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First Known Use of piety

circa 1500, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for piety

French pieté piety, pity, from Old French, from Latin pietat-, pietas, from pius dutiful, pious

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Time Traveler for piety

Time Traveler

The first known use of piety was circa 1500

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Statistics for piety

Last Updated

23 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Piety.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piety. Accessed 3 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for piety

piety

noun
How to pronounce piety (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of piety

: devotion to God : the quality or state of being pious

piety

noun
pi·​e·​ty | \ ˈpī-ə-tē How to pronounce piety (audio) \
plural pieties

Kids Definition of piety

: devotion to God : the state or fact of being pious

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More from Merriam-Webster on piety

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for piety

Spanish Central: Translation of piety

Nglish: Translation of piety for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of piety for Arabic Speakers

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