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Would you be kind enough to explain the nuance between "pitiful" and "pitiable"? My Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary shows two similar meanings for the aforementioned words.

  1. deserving pity or causing you to feel pity.

  2. not deserving respect

I am confused as to why there are two different adjectives with almost the similar meaning and examples.

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2 Answers 2

The dictionary definitions you quote can be explained this way:

Pitiable is able to be pitied. You or I might feel pity or we might not.

But in the case of pitiful we do feel pity.

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I'd say that pitiful might be either of those two definitions (you use context to know which is being used), but pitiable is only the first.

A coach might tell his team "Your guys on defense were pitiful today". He's telling them that they did a bad job. But you would never use pitiable there.

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