Definition of pious
1a : marked by or showing reverence for deity and devotion to divine worshipb : marked by conspicuous religiosity <a hypocrite—a thing all pious words and uncharitable deeds — Charles Reade>
3 : showing loyal reverence for a person or thing : dutiful
5 : deserving commendation : worthy <a pious effort>
Examples of pious in a sentence
We must ask to what extent, and at however unconscious a level, a conflict arises in the pious political mind when it is sworn to uphold the civil religion of the Constitution. —E. L. Doctorow, Free Inquiry, October/November 2008
But our problem is the lack of any shared or coherent attitude toward the rest of the world, without which, as Judt acknowledges, Europe exists in pieces, an outsize Switzerland held together by nothing more solid than pious sentiment. —Nicholas Fraser, Harper's, May 2006
The other side of the masonry block was covered with a web of ancient graffiti, she said, left by pious visitors to the tomb. —Tom Mueller, Atlantic, October 2003
The news offered so many occasions for pious or ribald commentary that any chance of agreement about what any of it meant was lost in a vast din of clucking and sniggering. —Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's, August 1997
Japanese schools have another eccentricity, which is the pious, Sunday-school-like enthusiasm of students and teachers alike for education about values. Teachers sometimes sound so saccharine that they would make Mr. Rogers look like a cynic. —Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times Magazine, 17 Aug. 1997
They lived a quiet, pious life.
I'm tired of hearing politicians making pious pronouncements about their devotion to the people.
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.
Origin and Etymology of pious
Middle English, from Latin pius
First Known Use: 15th century
PIOUS Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of pious for English Language Learners
: deeply religious : devoted to a particular religion
: falsely appearing to be good or moral
PIOUS Defined for Kids
Definition of pious for Students
: showing devotion to God
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up pious? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).