Difference Between Pathos and Bathos

Key Difference – Pathos vs Bathos

The two words Pathos and Bathos are related in meaning as well as in sound, yet they are not interchangeable. The key difference between pathos and bathos is that the word pathos is about evoking pity and sympathy whereas bathos refers to a sudden change from a serious, deeply moving, important act to a foolish or a trivial episode in a literary work. In order to figure out what these two words are, what they mean, and the important differences between pathos and bathos, first we will have to examine them separately.

What Does Pathos Mean?

As we all know, the word pathetic is a commonly used adjective. This adjective is derived from the noun pathos. Words like pity, sorrow, suffering, obsolete and tenderness can be defined as synonyms for the word Pathos. This word originated from the Greek words, paschein and pathein. The etymology of the word pathos likewise dates back to 1591.

Pathos is basically the power or ability to evoke feelings of pity and compassion in an actual life experience, or in literature. However, the word pathos is generally used or spoken of when referring to a piece of work in art and literature, such as a  play, painting, poem for example. If this work of art is able to create emotions in the audience, then this situation can be called pathos. For example, if the author, reader, or the scriptwriter is able to create pity for a character through a play we name it as pathos. The emotional connection between the audience and the play is therefore generally known as Pathos.

Difference Between Pathos and Bathos

What Does Bathos Mean?

Bathos, on the other hand, has a more complex setting than pathos. The word also originates from the Greek language. The literary meaning of the word bathos is depth. The etymology is dated back to 1727. Unlike pathos, bathos does not convey a feeling; it is often an effect created by an unintentional lapse of the creator.

Bathos is also known as insincere or the overdone pathos; which can be defined as sentimentalism. Generally, it is more of an anticlimax or a switch to commonplace style from a highly stylized form. Basically, bathos in a writing, speech or a play is the sudden change from a serious, deeply moving, important act to a foolish or a trivial episode. A switch from a serious matter to a slight episode is therefore called bathos. For example, if you are in the process of delivering a grand speech but if you end it with a sloppy sentence or phrase, then you have unintentionally created bathos. A sudden fall from upper situation to the lowest in one instance is therefore called bathos.

It is important not to confuse the two words pathos and bathos. Pathos is a feeling of pity and suffering. Bathos is an effect of anticlimax created by a lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous. Therefore, bathos has a more complex meaning than pathos.

Key Difference - Pathos vs Bathos

What is the difference between Pathos and Bathos?





  • Greek
  • Greek

Alexander Pope created the term bathos in his short essay “Peri Bathous,”


  • Pathetic
  • Bathetic


  • Suffering
  • Sorrow
  • Pity
  • Compassion
  • Breakdown from a higher place to the lower
  • A clear anti-climax
  • A sudden change from the best to the worst

Occasion or Purpose

  • To make the audience feel pity for a character
  • To make the situation turn into sarcasm
  • To ridicule the serious talk that has been going on in the play
  • To mock other writers who take their writing seriously


  • Creates an emotional connection
  • Creates awe, stupidity at the same time
  • Creates humor with a serious mode


  • Simple
  • Understanding
  • Complex
  • Takes a while to realize, why the writer did it


  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Neither positive or negative
  • Both can sometimes be seen in the same context


  • Daily life:

Negative: Empathizing with a friend who lost a family member

Positive: Feeling proud as your country’s athlete receives a gold medal at the Olympics

  • Advertisements:

Advertisements related to food showing people having a good time while eating

  • Music:

Songs with a fast, energetic beat are often used to lift a listener’s mood

  • William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun

  • In Radcliff’s The Romance of the Forest: a character finds a human skeleton in the chest.
  • In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen: uses a mysterious chest in her story as a prop to build on and successfully satirize the extremes of the Gothic fiction of the eighteenth century.

The words pathos and bathos can be similar in sound, and the word structure, but their meaning and use are different as shown above. Even though the word pathos can be seen and used in our day to day context both these words pathos and bathos, are generally used and seen in literature, especially in writings, speeches, plays, novels and in poems.

Image Courtesy:
Frederick Leighton – The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets over the Dead Bodies of Romeo and Juliet” By Frederic Leighton (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
“William Hogarth – The Bathos” By William Hogarth – Scanned from The genius of William Hogarth or Hogarth’s Graphical Works( Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia