piety

noun
pi·​e·​ty | \ˈpī-ə-tē \
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

devotion, faith, religion

Antonyms

atheism, godlessness

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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

There are numerous examples of filial piety, and household items sported popular Chinese symbols such as inverted bats (for good fortune) and peaches (for longevity). Lee Lawrence, WSJ, "‘Empresses of China’s Forbidden City’ Review: Searching for Stories of Power," 28 Aug. 2018 Regardless of your personal level of piety, the architecture inside—plus the city view from the short elevator ride to the top—is quite something. Gemma Askham, Condé Nast Traveler, "20 Best Things to Do in Barcelona," 3 Mar. 2018 Augustus didn’t emerge from uncertain beginnings and civil war through kindliness and good deeds; nor did Jahangir win the throne by patience and piety. Maxwell Carter, WSJ, "‘Empress’ Review: Light of the Mughal World," 13 July 2018 He is also known as Maulana Fazlullah; the honorific maulana refers to a Muslim man revered for his religious learning or piety. Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, New York Times, "U.S. Drone Strike Kills Leader of Pakistani Taliban, Pakistan Says," 15 June 2018 But after 1979 Saudi kings, who call themselves custodians of the two holy mosques, resolved to outdo their foes, both Shia and Sunni, in Islamic piety. The Economist, "Muslims but not brothersSaudi Arabia turns against political Islam," 23 June 2018 The bounty of oil made the model appear workable; Saudis could have both the good life and piety (those who disliked religiosity could always go abroad). The Economist, "Waiting for the backlashCan Muhammad bin Salman’s gamble work?," 21 June 2018 And all good Confucian children must observe filial piety. Chris Buckley, New York Times, "Xi Jinping Thought Explained: A New Ideology for a New Era," 26 Feb. 2018 But scholars say true piety among monks and lay people has waned and been replaced by an emphasis on donations and gestures that yield instant karma. George Styllis, Washington Post, "Thai crackdown targets Buddhist monks amid accusations of embezzlement and fraud," 24 June 2018

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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Dictionary Entries near piety

pietism

pietistic

pietoso

piety

pie wagon

pie wool

piezo-

Statistics for piety

Last Updated

17 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for piety

The first known use of piety was circa 1500

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More Definitions for piety

piety

noun

English Language Learners Definition of piety

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

piety

noun
pi·​e·​ty | \ˈpī-ə-tē \
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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