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[pit-i-fuh l] /ˈpɪt ɪ fəl/
evoking or deserving pity:
a pitiful fate.
evoking or deserving contempt by smallness, poor quality, etc.:
pitiful attempts.
Archaic. full of pity; compassionate.
Origin of pitiful
late Middle English
late Middle English word dating back to 1400-50; See origin at pity, -ful
Related forms
pitifully, adverb
pitifulness, noun
self-pitiful, adjective
self-pitifully, adverb
self-pitifulness, noun
unpitiful, adjective
unpitifully, adverb
unpitifulness, noun
Can be confused
piteous, pitiable, pitiful (see synonym study at the current entry)
1. lamentable, deplorable, woeful, pathetic. 2. deplorable, mean, low, base, vile, despicable.
1. delightful. 2. honorable.
Synonym Study
1, 2. Pitiful, pitiable, piteous apply to that which excites pity (with compassion or with contempt). That which is pitiful is touching and excites pity or is mean and contemptible: a pitiful leper; a pitiful exhibition of cowardice. Pitiable may mean lamentable, or wretched and paltry: a pitiable hovel. Piteous refers only to that which exhibits suffering and misery, and is therefore heart-rending: piteous poverty. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for pitiful
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Is it not most pitiful to see a human being, made in the image of God, sunk so low?

    Weighed and Wanting George MacDonald
  • It would be pitiful to have to make him still more miserable!

    Weighed and Wanting George MacDonald
  • I do not know whether the sight to you would have been pitiful or ludicrous.

    Ester Ried Yet Speaking Isabella Alden
  • Burke broke in on the girl's pitiful histrionics ruthlessly.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • It is all true, true to character, and pitiful beyond words.

    The Man Shakespeare Frank Harris
British Dictionary definitions for pitiful


arousing or deserving pity
arousing or deserving contempt
(archaic) full of pity or compassion
Derived Forms
pitifully, adverb
pitifulness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for pitiful

c.1300, "merciful, compassionate" (implied in pitifully), from pity + -ful. Sense of "exciting or deserving pity" is from mid-15c.; that of "mean, wretched, contemptible" is 1580s. Related: Pitifulness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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