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 páthos means "experience, misfortune, emotion, condition,” and comes from Greek path-, meaning “experience, undergo, suffer.” In English, pathos usually refers to the element in an experience or in an artistic work that makes us feel compassion, pity, or sympathy. The word is a member of a big family: empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Pathetic (in its gentlest uses) describes things that move us to pity. Though pathology is not literally "the study of suffering," it is "the study of diseases." Other relatives of pathos include sympathy, apathy, and antipathy.

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 Harjo and his writing staff mint delightful comedy and grab-a-tissue pathos out of plots that can be straightforward, absurd, or existential. Darren Franich,, 3 Aug. 2022 Perrotta wrings pathos from needs met and passed over, conducting a symphony of unruly yearnings, delusions, and dramatic ironies. Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, 13 June 2022 Aristotle’s pathos pertains to emotion and feeling. Jacob Warwick, Forbes, 22 Apr. 2022 Why binge Netflix when just outside the window is real-life drama, pathos, tragedy and comedy, all captured by the five video cameras Statter has trained on the traffic below? Washington Post, 27 Mar. 2022 Jimmie Haskell's tasteful string arrangement underscores the power and pathos of a vocal that stands as one of her more nuanced shows of force. Ed Masley, The Arizona Republic, 11 July 2022 Still, miseries gather around the girl like detritus carried in by an inexorable tide — arguably too many miseries in the film’s later stages, with Aoi sustaining blow after blow in a rhythm that occasionally feels manipulated for maximum pathos. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 7 July 2022 This line of dialogue, which lends the scene even more pathos, was thought up by actor Joseph Quinn. Philip Ellis, Men's Health, 5 July 2022 Their deaths—which Millet captures with the same measured pathos found in her novels—are especially tragic, given how long one takes to mature, and how few are growing as the desert climate becomes harsher. Lily Houston Smith, The Atlantic, 23 June 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).

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Last Updated

8 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Pathos.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.

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