rue·​ful ˈrü-fəl How to pronounce rueful (audio)
: exciting pity or sympathy : pitiable
rueful squalid poverty … by every waysideJohn Morley
: mournful, regretful
troubled her with a rueful disquietW. M. Thackeray
ruefully adverb
ruefulness noun

Example Sentences

He gave me a rueful smile and apologized. the rueful faces of friends and family who had gathered to pay their last respects
Recent Examples on the Web When pressed that part of why he’s gained such a following is precisely because he’s supposed to know more than anyone else, Armstrong grew momentarily rueful. Steven Zeitchik, Washington Post, 24 July 2022 My feverish brain wanted to make rueful meaning of that moment in real time. Hazlitt, 13 June 2022 But Sachs’ compassion gradually thaws the movie, enveloping its central trio in a sort of rueful, chastening tenderness. Jon Frosch, The Hollywood Reporter, 23 Jan. 2023 Reflecting on a career spent making movies and plays that have featured exploding cats, surprise decapitations, and other inventive acts of destruction, Martin McDonagh let out a rueful laugh. David Sims, The Atlantic, 22 Oct. 2022 Two losses by a total of five points might result in some rueful memories once the season is over, but South Alabama is still putting together its best-ever fall of football. Creg Stephenson |, al, 6 Nov. 2022 There are more abstract conflicts, as well, expressed by the two wise-rueful, sad-merry uncles, Doaker and Wining Boy (a tremendous Michael Potts). Helen Shaw, The New Yorker, 14 Oct. 2022 Despite the abundance of other projects, this polished but informal program (unobtrusively directed by Lonny Price) of personal anecdotes, private memories and rueful reflections on his life seems special. Marilyn Stasio, Variety, 27 Oct. 2022 Her ascension marks a recognition that memoir, in all its many faces and poses—direct, self-critical, rueful and comic, engagé and not—is perhaps the leading genre of our time, as much as the novel was for the first half of the twentieth century. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 9 Oct. 2022 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of rueful was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near rueful

Cite this Entry

“Rueful.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


rue·​ful ˈrü-fəl How to pronounce rueful (audio)
: exciting pity or sympathy
ruefully adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on rueful

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