piteous, pitiable, pitiful
All three words are recorded from Middle English and share the basic meaning ‘arousing pity’ and are to some extent interchangeable (as in The abandoned children were a piteous sight), although pitiful is the most versatile and piteous is the least common. Piteous and pitiable can both convey the meaning ‘deserving pity’, and pitiable and pitiful convey the meaning ‘evoking mingled pity and contempt’. Pitiful alone is used in the meaning ‘absurdly small or insignificant’, as in The state pension has been reduced to a pitiful sum. Examples:

• A pitiful tube squirts water to a height of a couple of feet —J. D. R. McConnell, 1970

• How she had suffered for him, for her poor pitiable ridiculous father —Margaret Drabble, 1987

• ‘What did I do this time?’ Helen looked piteous —Maeve Binchy, 1988

• He had been a thorn in the Empire's side for many years, and he had eluded their pitiful armies again and again —fiction website, BrE 2006 [OEC].

Modern English usage. 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Piteous — Pit e*ous, a. [OE. pitous, OF. pitos, F. piteux. See {Pity}.] 1. Pious; devout. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] The Lord can deliver piteous men from temptation. Wyclif. [1913 Webster] 2. Evincing pity, compassion, or sympathy; compassionate; tender. [She] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • piteous — index deplorable, lamentable, lugubrious Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • piteous — c.1300, from Anglo Fr. pitous, O.Fr. pitos (12c.), from M.L. pietosus merciful, pitiful, in V.L. dutiful, from L. pietas dutiful conduct, compassion (see PIETY (Cf. piety)). Related: Piteously …   Etymology dictionary

  • piteous — *pitiful, pitiable Analogous words: imploring, supplicating, entreating, beseeching (see BEG): *melancholy, doleful, dolorous, plaintive …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • piteous — [adj] miserable, pathetic beseeching, commiserable, deplorable, distressing, doleful, dolorous, entreating, grievous, heartbreaking, heartrending, imploring, lamentable, melancholy, mournful, moving, pitiable, pitiful, plaintive, poignant, poor,… …   New thesaurus

  • piteous — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ deserving or arousing pity. DERIVATIVES piteously adverb piteousness noun. ORIGIN Old French piteus, from Latin pietas dutifulness …   English terms dictionary

  • piteous — [pit′ē əs] adj. [ME piteus < MFr < OFr pitous < LL(Ec) * pietosus < pietas: see PIETY] arousing or deserving pity or compassion SYN. PITIFUL piteously adv. piteousness n …   English World dictionary

  • piteous — [[t]pɪ̱tiəs[/t]] ADJ GRADED Something that is piteous is so sad that you feel great pity for the person involved. [WRITTEN] As they pass by, a piteous wailing is heard. Syn: pitiful …   English dictionary

  • piteous — piteously, adv. piteousness, n. /pit ee euhs/, adj. 1. evoking or deserving pity; pathetic: piteous cries for help. 2. Archaic. compassionate. [1250 1300; ME; r. pitous < OF < ML pietosus. See PITY, OUS] Syn. 1. affecting, moving, distressing,… …   Universalium

  • piteous — See pitiable, piteous …   Dictionary of problem words and expressions

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