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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 pitifully
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Her face was pitifully convulsed, and tears welled in her eyes.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • To deny that he had come to arrest the outlaw was so pitifully futile.

  • By now the pitifully few weapons of the Earthmen were popping.

    Slaves of Mercury Nat Schachner
  • The Earthmen were pitifully few, only thirty of them, and wretchedly armed.

    Slaves of Mercury Nat Schachner
  • When he reached his house he asked: “Who is weeping here so pitifully?”

  • There are times when language seems so pitifully inadequate.

    Cy Whittaker's Place Joseph C. Lincoln
  • She looked at him appealingly, pitifully, but she shook her head.

    Shavings Joseph C. Lincoln
British Dictionary definitions for pitifully


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 pitifully



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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