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

Pathos is one of the most important methods of persuasion in the world. Here is the meaning of pathos and where the word comes from!

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

A fundamental reason everything from novels to politicians to ads appeals to people is because they create real emotions inside you. Have you ever seen a movie that moved you emotionally or an advertisement that evoked the feeling of sympathy inside of you? Whether that’s a feeling of pity, passion, anger, or sympathetic sorrow, your emotions are a compelling model of persuasion. 

This particular kind of emotional appeal is often known as pathos. It’s a fantastic tool to use when communicating with people and a powerful thing to be aware of when used on you. It’s a powerful way to make an ethical appeal to people’s compassion, humor, or grief when trying to persuade them to your side. 

Here is what pathos is, where the word comes from, and how to use it in various contexts. 

What Does Pathos Mean? 

According to the dictionary of the English language, the noun pathos describes a sensation or quality that evokes an emotional response. It is a specific reaction that a viewer will have towards a situation or event that creates a sizable internal reaction in their minds. 

It is most commonly used to understand different forms of persuasion and rhetoric. For reference, the two other primary types of influence include logos — which appeals to logic, science, and studies — and ethos, which appeals to credibility, branding, and confidence. Pathos is primarily based on empathy and the use of strong emotions. 

Where Does the Word Pathos Come From? 

The etymology of the word pathos is a fairly typical story. It originates from a few Greek words, including páthos, which means “suffering,” páschein, which means “suffer,” and penthos, which means “grief.” Around the mid 17th century, all of these words came together to form the Modern Greek pathos, from which the English pathos was directly derived. 

The word came from the ancient Greek words for suffering and grief because the word is generally focused on feeling empathy for the misfortunes of others. That special kind of poignancy in people’s hearts is the foundation of what pathos means in the modern world of persuasion, politics, and theology. 

What Does Pathos Mean in Rhetoric? 

When someone is trying to persuade other people of a truth or stance, they will often make a lot of attempts to appeal to their emotions. This is an effective way to create fans and followers. When you can highlight the parts of something that are pitiful or tender, it can lead people to want to support it. 

In some cases, an abundance of pathos reasoning can cause people to overlook the benefits of examining the logic and ethics behind a stance. Many people will overlook logical fallacies in an argument simply because of the preexisting commitment of the heart. 

Because of this, it can often be easy to manipulate people by making them sad, angry, happy, or frustrated. The opposite of pathos is apathy. 

Every time a book makes you feel an emotion, it’s because the author’s attempt at creating pathos is working well. If the death of a character makes you sad and the protagonist’s victory gives you vindication, that means that you are experiencing pathos at work! While this is commonly used in debate, it is also a massive part of making storytelling powerful and essential. 

Almost all art is trying to appeal to pathos in one way or another. While pathos can be a manipulative tool for evil, it is also a great way to create real emotions. That is the foundational reason movies are so fun, books are personal, and music is so impactful. 

Examples of Pathos at Work 

Here are some examples of pathos-based rhetorical appeals at play in the world around us today. If you’ve ever seen any of these and felt something emotionally because of it, that’s because whoever was creating that piece of content or art did their job of creating pathos effectively. 

  • Advertisements asking for donations to a charity or cause while showing videos of animals or people suffering, looking downcast, or needing help. 
  • Songs, both lyrically and instrumentally that make you feel something — happiness, sadness, excitement, romanticism, or anything else. 
  • Being convinced to do something, because if you don’t do it, it will make you sad or make other people miserable. 
  • Advertisements show people happy and excited about their lives and relate it to their usage or consumption of a product that the company or brand is selling. 
  • Watching a movie that inspires you to take action because you want to feel the things depicted in the film. 


At the end of the day, pathos reasoning is one of the most essential tools you can use to help convince people of what you believe. Of course, it’s always best to balance that kind of reasoning with other types of logical and ethical reasoning. However, depending on the subject and audience, pathos might just be the most effective tool you have. 

Good communication is the foundation of almost all success in life. That’s why we’re here to help you master your words, speaking, and writing skills! If you want to learn more about the English language and its small intricacies, feel free to take a look around our blog here at The Word Counter! We’re always looking for more words, phrases, and grammatical confusion to write posts about so that people of all kinds can understand their language better. 

If you’re ever wondering how to say something, take a look around our blog — we’re here to help you succeed! 


  1. Pathos Definition & Meaning |
  2. PATHOS | Cambridge English Dictionary
  3. Pathos – Definition, Meaning & Synonyms |