pathos

noun
pa·​thos | \ ˈpā-ˌthäs How to pronounce pathos (audio) , -ˌthȯs, -ˌthōs How to pronounce pathos (audio) also ˈpa- \

Definition of pathos

1 : an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion
2 : an emotion of sympathetic pity

Pathos Entered English in the 1500s

The Greek word pathos means "suffering," "experience," or "emotion." It was borrowed into English in the 16th century, and for English speakers, the term usually refers to the emotions produced by tragedy or a depiction of tragedy. Pathos has quite a few kin in English. Pathetic is used to describe things that move us to pity. Empathy is the ability to feel the emotions of another. Though pathology is not literally "the study of suffering," it is "the study of diseases." You can probably guess at more relatives of pathos. Sympathy, apathy, antipathy, sociopath, and psychopath are a few.

Examples of pathos in a Sentence

There is a pathos to the deflated certainties that left the Washington lawyer Leonard Garment weeping, inconsolable, outside the Senate chamber as the debate was ended. — Garry Wills, New York Times Book Review, 10 Sept. 1989 Many schools at the end of the Depression were poor, but the threadbare nature of Christchurch was almost Dickensian in its pathos. — William Styron, This Quiet Dust and Other Writings, (1953) 1982 The struggle back to solvency was arduous, and the stubborn determination and reserves of strength that it called forth from him in his mid-forties made him all at once a figure of considerable pathos and heroism in my eyes, a cross of a kind between Captain Ahab and Willy Loman. — Philip Roth, Reading Myself and Others, (1961) 1975 Our knowledge of his tragic end adds an element of pathos to the story of his early success.
Recent Examples on the Web An earlier generation of Yiddish writers—led by I.L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem and Mendele Mocher Sforim—had perfected a plain-spoken and pathos-laden mode of storytelling. Benjamin Balint, WSJ, 17 June 2022 Every aspect of the Native experience was ripe for driving laughter and pathos. Scott Huver, Variety, 14 June 2022 Half a century later, listeners are still unraveling this record’s comedy, charms, and surprising pathos. Spin Staff, SPIN, 22 Apr. 2022 And the kind of opportunities for comedy and for pathos that butt up against each other in the scripts was really a joy. Ryan Parker, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Apr. 2022 That was them — and one farting-corpse feature film later, Daniels have made a name for themselves as go-to absurdists with a love of loony FX, dark comedy and some odd, left-turn swerves into pathos. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 23 Mar. 2022 The ideas in Hamaguchi’s stories develop emotions — the specter of loneliness — rather than meander toward quizzical, highbrow pathos. Armond White, National Review, 29 Apr. 2022 Singing with such pathos, which she is known for, Trevi is convincing and moving in her delivery of this heartbreak track. Billboard Staff, Billboard, 28 Apr. 2022 It’s a masterful, beautiful, reluctantly moving book — that is, moving despite its subject being naturally moving, courting no pathos, shrewd and frank — and Dyer’s best in some time. Charles Finch, Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of pathos

1591, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pathos

borrowed from Greek páthos "experience, misfortune, emotion, condition," noun derivative of a verbal base path- "experience, undergo, suffer" (present páschō, páschein, aorist épathon), going back to *p(h)nth-, zero ablaut grade of a base seen also in pénthos "grief, sorrow," of uncertain origin

Note: The Greek verb has been compared with Lithuanian kentù, kę͂sti "to undergo, suffer" (assuming that t for d is secondary) and Old Irish césaid "(s/he) suffers, endures" (< *kwendh-s-?), though this would require Indo-European *kwendh-, with a normally unacceptable combination of voiceless stop and voiced aspirated stop in a single root. Alternatively, Greek path-, penth- has been explained as an idiosyncratic semantic development of Indo-European *bhendh- "bind" ("be bound" > "suffer"?) (see bind entry 1).

Learn More About pathos

Statistics for pathos

Last Updated

21 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Pathos.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pathos. Accessed 25 Jun. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Words for Scrabble

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!