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  1. causing or evoking pity, sympathetic sadness, sorrow, etc.; pitiful; pitiable: a pathetic letter; a pathetic sight.
  2. affecting or moving the emotions.
  3. pertaining to or caused by the emotions.
  4. miserably or contemptibly inadequate: In return for our investment we get a pathetic three percent interest.
Often pa·thet·i·cal.

Origin of pathetic

1590–1600; < Late Latin pathēticus < Greek pathētikós sensitive equivalent to pathēt(ós) made or liable to suffer (verbid of páschein to suffer + -ikos -ic
Related formspa·thet·i·cal·ly, adverbpa·thet·i·cal·ness, nounhy·per·pa·thet·ic, adjectivehy·per·pa·thet·i·cal, adjectivehy·per·pa·thet·i·cal·ly, adverbqua·si-pa·thet·ic, adjectivequa·si-pa·thet·i·cal·ly, adverbun·pa·thet·ic, adjectiveun·pa·thet·i·cal·ly, adverb
Can be confusedbathetic pathetic

Synonyms for pathetic

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for pathetic


  1. evoking or expressing pity, sympathy, etc
  2. distressingly inadequatethe old man sat huddled in front of a pathetic fire
  3. British informal ludicrously or contemptibly uninteresting or worthlessthe standard of goalkeeping in amateur football today is pathetic
  4. obsolete of or affecting the feelings
pl n
  1. pathetic sentiments
Derived Formspathetically, adverb

Word Origin for pathetic

C16: from French pathétique, via Late Latin from Greek pathetikos sensitive, from pathos suffering; see pathos
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

Word Origin and History for pathetic

1590s, "affecting the emotions, exciting the passions," from Middle French pathétique "moving, stirring, affecting" (16c.), from Late Latin patheticus, from Greek pathetikos "subject to feeling, sensitive, capable of emotion," from pathetos "liable to suffer," verbal adjective of pathein "to suffer" (see pathos). Meaning "arousing pity, pitiful" is first recorded 1737. Colloquial sense of "so miserable as to be ridiculous" is attested from 1937. Related: Pathetical (1570s); pathetically. Pathetic fallacy (1856, first used by Ruskin) is the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper