pitiful

pitiful, piteous, pitiable are comparable but not always interchangeable when they mean arousing or deserving pity or compassion.
Pitiful applies especially to what actually excites pity or, sometimes, commiseration because it is felt to be deeply pathetic
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their distress was pitiful

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a long line of pitiful refugees

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her face looked pale and extinguished. . . . She struck Archer, of a sudden, as a pathetic and even pitiful figure—Wharton

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But pitiful may apply to something meriting pity or commiseration less as pathetic than as contemptible, especially in its inadequacy
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a pitiful attempt at housekeeping

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a pitiful wage scale

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Piteous implies not so much an effect on the observer as a quality in the thing that excites pity; thus, a cry is piteous if it implores or demands attention or pity; it is pitiful only if it actually excites pity; one may scorn a piteous appeal, but it would be a contradiction in terms to scorn a pitiful appeal
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Cashel cast a glance round, half piteous, half desperate, like a hunted animal— Shaw

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Pitiable (see also CONTEMPTIBLE) may be preferred to pitiful when a contemptuous commiseration is implied, but contempt may be weakly or strongly connoted
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that pitiable husk of a man who a hundred years ago was a familiar figure in its streets, a shadow of his former inso-lence and splendor— Lucas

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felt a tender pity . . . mixed with shame for having made her pitiableMalamud

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Analogous words: touching, *moving, pathetic, affecting: *tender, compassionate, responsive, sympathetic
Antonyms: cruel

New Dictionary of Synonyms. 2014.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pitiful — Pit i*ful, a. 1. Full of pity; tender hearted; compassionate; kind; merciful; sympathetic. [1913 Webster] The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. James v. 11. [1913 Webster] 2. Piteous; lamentable; eliciting compassion. [1913 Webster] A… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pitiful — [pit′i fəl] adj. 1. arousing or deserving pity 2. deserving contempt; despicable 3. Archaic full of pity or compassion pitifully adv. pitifulness n. SYN. PITIFUL applies to that which arouses or deserves pity because it is sad, pathetic, etc.… …   English World dictionary

  • pitiful — index deplorable, lamentable, paltry, poor (inferior in quality) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • pitiful — c.1300, compassionate (implied in pitifully), from PITY (Cf. pity) + FUL (Cf. ful). Sense of exciting or deserving pity is from mid 15c.; that of mean, wretched, contemptible is 1580s …   Etymology dictionary

  • pitiful — [adj] in bad shape; poor abject, affecting, afflicted, arousing, base, beggarly, cheap, cheerless, comfortless, commiserative, compassionate, contemptible, deplorable, despicable, dismal, distressed, distressing, grievous, heartbreaking,… …   New thesaurus

  • pitiful — ► ADJECTIVE 1) deserving or arousing pity. 2) very small or poor; inadequate. DERIVATIVES pitifully adverb pitifulness noun …   English terms dictionary

  • pitiful — [[t]pɪ̱tɪfʊl[/t]] 1) ADJ GRADED Someone or something that is pitiful is so sad, weak, or small that you feel pity for them. He sounded both pitiful and eager to get what he wanted... It was the most pitiful sight I had ever seen. Derived words:… …   English dictionary

  • pitiful — pit|i|ful [ pıtıfl ] adjective 1. ) looking or sounding so unhappy that you feel sympathy and sadness: The scrawny little kitten looked so pitiful out in the rain. The refugee camp was a pitiful sight. 2. ) extremely bad: a pitiful performance a… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • pitiful — UK [ˈpɪtɪf(ə)l] / US adjective 1) looking or sounding so unhappy that you feel sympathy and sadness The scrawny little kitten looked so pitiful out in the rain. The refugee camp was a pitiful sight. 2) extremely bad a pitiful performance a… …   English dictionary

  • pitiful — 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… …   Modern English usage

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