Pathos: Definition, Examples of Pathos in Spoken Language and Literature

Have you ever heard of the concept of pathos? If you have, you may have wondered what it is. In this article, we are going to take a look at the meaning of pathos and how it is used in both spoken language as well as how it can be used as a literary device. We are also going to explore a number of examples to further show us how pathos can function.

What Is Pathos?

When you feel the emotions of sadness or pity which has come from an experience in life, this is pathos. Pathos can be expressed in many different ways including through pictures, gestures and words, whether that is through spoken words or in the form of literature. Most commonly, pathos is used as a way to emotionally appeal to the listener or reader.

When used in spoken language, pathos can be particularly useful in arguments as a way to convince the opposition that your point is valid and carries some weight or truth. It might be seen as a form of persuasion, of which there are two other forms, these are logos and ethos. The reason for this is that when used in something like a speech, pathos can sway the listener and persuade them to take a different view based on the emotions that it stirs up within them.

Pathos can also be used as a literary device and this is often the case in many pieces of writing (we will look at some examples of this later on.) When used as a literary device, pathos can be used between characters, particularly in pieces like plays and stories, allowing one character to appeal to the emotional nature of another and therefore persuade and influence their decisions and thoughts. It is also used in writing as a way of making the piece feel more dramatic and this can further cause the reader to get on side with the thought or argument that is being proposed.

Pathos Examples

Examples of Pathos In Spoken Language

As we mentioned, pathos can be used in spoken language such as speech or arguments as a way of convincing or persuading the listener by appealing to their emotions and causing them to feel sadness, empathy or pity. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how pathos might be used in a spoken context.

  • In Martin Luther King Jr‘s speech titled ‘I have a dream’ we see examples of various forms of persuasion, and pathos is clearly used in the following excerpt. “Let’s not wallow here in a valley of depair, today, I say to you, friends. But even though we are facing difficulties, today and tomorrow, I still have my dream, and it is one rooted in an American dream.”
  • In a speech made by J F Kennedy, he uses pathos in order to emotionally appeal to the audience and this is evident in the following passage. “We are choosing to go to the moon right in this decade as well as doing other things, not for the reason of ease but because these things are difficult, because the end goal is to test our skills and energies, and that is a challenge that we are willing to take.”
  • In the keynote address made by Barack Obama in 2004, he strongly makes use of pathos, as we can see when we read the following passage from that speech. “This is the hopes of the slaves around a fire who are singing songs of freedom, the hope of the immigrant setting out to find a distant shore, the hopes of a young soldier patrolling a dangerous area, and the hope of the wimpy kid who knows that America has a place for him as well.”
  • The use of the term ‘made in America’ is a form of pathos used to appeal to the consumers sense of patriotism, they are more likely to buy the product if it has an emotional connection to their country.

Examples of Pathos In Literature

When used as a literary device, pathos can be an effective tool to cause the reader to feel a strong sense of emotion as a result of what is being discussed. Good pathos will make use of persuasive and emotionally appealing language, therefore making it more successful. There have been many examples of the use of pathos in various pieces of literature, we are now going to take a look at some of these.

  • In The adventures of Tom Sawyer written by Mark Twain, we see pathos being used in the following statement as a way to get the reader to feel a sense of pity. “He’d meant the best in all the world yet had been treated like he was a dog. One day she would be sorry, but then it might to too late.”
  • In the famous novel, Pride and prejudice written by Jane Austen, the writer frequently uses pathos as a way to invoke a feeling of sympathy in the reader, this is clear in the following passage. “Believe me, my dear Elizabeth, being modest does add to other perfections of yours. But you cannot doubt my discourse, but the delicacy of your femininity might lead to your dissemble. The moment I entered this house, I has singled you out as my future companion.”
  • In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the bard uses pathos as a way to cause a feeling of pity in the audience through the character of Balthasar, who is informing Romeo of the death of his beloved. “Her body sleeps in the Capulet’s monument.” This is a way to create a sense of sympathy for Romeo.


In this article, we have learnt that pathos is one of three forms of persuasion and it is a way of appealing to the emotions of the listener or reader. By invoking a feeling of pity, empathy or sadness, the speaker of writer is able to bring their audience around to their way of thinking.

Pathos has been used widely as a literary device and also in many spoken contexts.

Pathos Infographic