Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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.

share|improve this question

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.

share|improve this answer

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.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.