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 word dating back to 1400–50; see origin at pity, -ful
Related formspit·i·ful·ly, adverbpit·i·ful·ness, nounself-pit·i·ful, adjectiveself-pit·i·ful·ly, adverbself-pit·i·ful·ness, nounun·pit·i·ful, adjectiveun·pit·i·ful·ly, adverbun·pit·i·ful·ness, noun
Can be confusedpiteous pitiable pitiful (see synonym study at the current entry)

Synonyms for pitiful

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.

Antonyms for pitiful

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for pitiful

Contemporary Examples of pitiful

Historical Examples of pitiful

  • 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.

  • 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.

British Dictionary definitions for pitiful



arousing or deserving pity
arousing or deserving contempt
archaic full of pity or compassion
Derived Formspitifully, adverbpitifulness, 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

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