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 fidelityallegiance suggests an adherence like that of citizens to their country.
pledging allegiancefealty implies a fidelity acknowledged by the individual and as compelling as a sworn vow.
fealty to the truthloyalty 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.
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 WebWith his white turban and dense, gray beard, his forehead marked by the bruising prized by some Muslims as denoting piety from frequent prayer, Dr. Zawahri had little of bin Laden’s charisma and none of his access to fabled family wealth.
Alan Cowell, BostonGlobe.com, 2 Aug. 2022 With his white turban and dense, gray beard, his forehead marked by the bruising prized by some Muslims as denoting piety from frequent prayer, al-Zawahri had little of Bin Laden’s charisma and none of his access to fabled family wealth.
New York Times, 1 Aug. 2022 To find answers means more truth, less filial piety, and God knows how much more time.
Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, 30 May 2022 Erasing the line separating piety from politics is a key characteristic of White Christian nationalism.
John Blake, CNN, 24 July 2022 An entrenched habit of what must be called piety in the treatment of England by American historians obscures the context within which the determined non-conformity of the Puritans might be understood.
Marilynne Robinson, Harper’s Magazine , 20 July 2022 But, for the court’s majority, all that really happened when Kennedy knelt was that an individual freely chose to follow his conscience, performing an essentially individual and thus private act of piety.
Charles Mccrary, The New Republic, 5 July 2022 Liberals now must unmask, for politically salient and popular audiences, Alito’s hollow pretense of originalist and textualist piety.
Simon Lazarus, The New Republic, 20 June 2022 Scholars would argue it’s because the seemingly paradoxical values of the Catholic sisterhood—power and piety, strength and femininity—are as urgent and confusing now as ever.
ELLE, 3 June 2022 See More
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.