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

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

Religious tradition, for instance, can do all three — its piety cultivates a sense of duty toward the sacred and also drives people to commit acts of atrocity. Sahil Handa, National Review, "Seeking a Way Out of Our Modern Malaise," 4 June 2019 In this period of heated piety, Catholics seemed the most successfully devout. Garry Wills, Harper's magazine, "Shallow Calls to Shallow," 10 Apr. 2019 Other edicts exhorted citizens to generosity, piety, justice, and mercy. National Geographic, "Who was Ashoka?," 1 Apr. 2019 Sumptuary laws were often political weapons disguised as moral pieties, aimed at less powerful groups, particularly women. Amanda Foreman, WSJ, "Unenforceable Laws Against Pleasure," 24 Jan. 2019 Expensive green piety is not why voters embraced Mr. Macron last year, and now the bubbling frustration endangers the economic change the French voted for. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Macron and the Yellow Vests," 19 Nov. 2018 Nowadays, those who violate progressive pieties risk ejection from the tribe and the wholesale effacement of their handiwork. WSJ, "Notable & Quotable: Banished," 23 Jan. 2019 Yet getting women behind the wheel is a welcome blow against the idea that Islamic piety is best shown by repressing them. The Economist, "How to ensure Muhammad bin Salman’s reforms succeed," 23 June 2018 After she is murdered, two copies of her will are found—one favoring the son, the other the rental relatives—dramatizing the tension between received pieties about filial love and the economic relations that bind parents and children. Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, "Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry," 23 Apr. 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

16 Jun 2019

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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 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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