Ethos Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

In this guide, you’ll learn ethos’s meaning, the origins of the word, how to use it today, synonyms, antonyms, examples, and more!

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Aristotle was a renowned Greek philosopher, and he’s considered one of history’s greatest thinkers. He was a student of Plato, another notable philosopher, and he is known for his written contributions to subjects like physics, biology, logic, ethics, music, poetry, psychology, politics, and more. 

In his time, Aristotle is believed to have written around 200 pieces, but we only have about 31 of them. In one, we find the word ethos, and we still use this word today. But what does ethos mean?

What Does Ethos Mean?

Ethos is defined in the Cambridge University English Dictionary as the character or guiding beliefs of a person or entity, such as a group or an organization. In this context, the word “character” refers to the mental and moral qualities of a person. 

Character isn’t always measured the same from person to person. For example, a person with the same intelligence level as someone else can have an entirely different character from the other person. 

This is because the two people might have different moral standards or moral compasses. Conversely, two people with the same moral code but different intelligence levels can also have vastly different characters.

The practices of a group can help to reveal the group’s ethos. In the same way, you can tell a person’s character by their actions.

What Is the Origin of Ethos?

Etymology is the study of the origin of words. Every word has its own story to tell, and ethos dates back to the time of Aristotle.

Ethos is a Greek word. Originally the word meant “accustomed place,” and its plural form was ethe or ethea. Ethos is the root of the word ethikos. Ethikos means “to show moral character.” The plural for the word ethos is ethika. 

Rhetoric is the art of persuasive speech. In the 4th century, Aristotle discussed rhetoric in his highly influential writings. Aristotle identified three artistic proofs or modes of persuasion, and ethos was among them. The three artistic proofs of rhetoric, according to Aristotle, are:

  • Ethos: Determined from the credibility of the speaker or their words
  • Logos: Determined from the logic in the speaker’s words
  • Pathos: Determined from the emotion in the speaker’s words

Aristotle felt that ethos came only from the speaker’s words, but some people believe ethos to be more than that. For example, the same words spoken by a person you trust are more persuasive than they are from someone you just met. Aristotle also broke down ethos into three categories:

  • Arete: A person’s goodwill or virtue
  • Eunoia: Aa person’s compassion for the audience/listener
  • Phronesis: A person’s useful skills and the practical wisdom of their words

From Aristotle’s perspective, ethos is viewed and determined by the audience, making it more subjective. Interestingly, this word from the 4th century was spoken by one of the greatest philosophers of all time, and we still use it today. 

As words do, ethos has grown to mean more, and now it has a broader scope. It now refers to a person or entity’s character or beliefs. 

How Do You Use the Word Ethos?

Ethos will not be in every conversation you have, but you will find opportunities to say or write the word on occasion. However, ethos gets around for a term that’s been used for seventeen centuries!

Ethos refers to an individual’s personal beliefs, but it can also refer to the beliefs held by groups of people or organizations. Groups of things can be said to have an ethos as well, such as:

  • Countries
  • Cultures
  • Political parties
  • Eras

Finding the Ethos of a Person or Group

Understanding the ethos of a person or group requires an understanding of their most pervasive ideas and beliefs. Aristotle said that a person or group’s ethos was what gave them rhetorical appeal.

Remember, rhetoric refers to a person or group’s persuasive ability. It’s interesting to understand how a group or individual with a historically negative ethos could win more people over. 

Ethos can also refer to the distinctive spirit of a culture. When you feel a personal connection to the ethos of a group, you feel compelled to identify with them. Maybe that’s why Aristotle considered ethos to be such an important part of persuasive speech.

Ethos and Morality

The term ethos also refers to a person’s morality. Some of the factors that determine a person’s ethos are:

  • Fundamental character
  • Fundamental values

A person’s ethos is also a reflection of who they are at their core. Each specific person’s ethos is determined by their nature and personal experiences. When a person is speaking to you, the underlying sentiment that you sense in their words is their ethos.

Ethos in Literature

In literature, a particular character’s ethos is determined by the author. Main characters or protagonists typically have a strong ethos. A protagonist’s personal belief system is a guiding element of their story. Some of the most compelling stories have characters with their own unique and robust ethos. 

It’s interesting to see how the Greek word ethos has grown to mean so much more than it once did. For such an intangible concept, ethos has left its mark. It’s important that we make a habit of using words like ethos in our everyday lives to keep their meanings alive.

Are There Synonyms for Ethos?

Synonyms are words that convey the same message as another word. Here are some examples of synonyms for ethos:

  • Character
  • Ethics
  • Morality
  • Moral code
  • Standards
  • Beliefs
  • Tenets
  • Values
  • Principles

Although synonyms are helpful in many cases, it’s hard to imagine passing on an opportunity to use a word like ethos in a sentence.

Are There Antonyms for Ethos?

Antonyms help you express the opposite of a certain word. Here are examples of antonyms for the word ethos:

  • Corruption
  • Immorality
  • Indecency
  • Amorality
  • Unethicalness 

Examples of Ethos

Here are example sentences of how to use ethos in a sentence:

  • The American ethos of rugged individualism is often conveyed through movies.
  • William’s ethos made him a distinctive character in the novel.
  • A study in anthropology reveals the true ethos of the Danes.
  • The regime used religion to appeal to the ethos of the people and rise to power.
  • The book was titled The Ethos of History.
  • Our business’s ethos is conveyed by our passion for ending world hunger.
  • The ethos of Star Trek is unity, inclusion, acceptance, and exploration.
  • The disposition of a community makes its strong ethos clear.
  • A strong ethos is part of any meaningful piece of dramatic literature.


Now you’re familiar with the meaning of the word ethos, as well as its origins and how to use it in a sentence.


  1. Aristotle – Psychology, Quotes & Works | Biography 
  2. Ethos | Cambridge University Press Dictionary  
  3. Logos, Ethos, Pathos, Kairos |