[roo-fuh l]
See more synonyms for rueful on
  1. causing sorrow or pity; pitiable; deplorable: a rueful plight.
  2. feeling, showing, or expressing sorrow or pity; mournful; doleful: the rueful look on her face.

Origin of rueful

First recorded in 1175–1225, rueful is from the Middle English word reowful. See rue1, -ful
Related formsrue·ful·ly, adverbrue·ful·ness, nounhalf-rue·ful, adjectivehalf-rue·ful·ly, adverbun·rue·ful, adjectiveun·rue·ful·ly, adverbun·rue·ful·ness, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for rueful

Contemporary Examples of rueful

Historical Examples of rueful

  • Duncan drew a rueful face, contemplating the place where she had been.

    The Fortune Hunter

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • "You were right," affirmed Kirkwood, with a rueful and crooked smile.

    The Black Bag

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • You will do the anathema--rueful rather than enraged--from the tent opening.

    The Forest

    Stewart Edward White

  • Captain Elisha, with a rueful smile, pointed to the floral centerpiece.

    Cap'n Warren's Wards

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • "Naturally, and with reason," was the answer, delivered with a rueful smile.

    The Snare

    Rafael Sabatini

British Dictionary definitions for rueful


  1. feeling or expressing sorrow or repentancea rueful face
  2. inspiring sorrow or pity
Derived Formsruefully, adverbruefulness, 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 rueful

early 13c., rewfulle, reowfule, from rue (n.2) + -ful. Related: Ruefulness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper