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Bathos vs. Pathos: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 6, 2023
Bathos is an abrupt transition from the lofty to the trivial, often to comic effect, while pathos is the quality that evokes pity or sadness.

Key Differences

Bathos and pathos are literary terms that describe different emotional effects. Bathos occurs when a writer or speaker, aiming for a serious or grandiose effect, overshoots and falls into trivial or ludicrous expressions, resulting in an unintended comedic effect. Pathos, by contrast, is a rhetorical device designed to invoke feelings of pity, sympathy, or sorrow in the audience, and is often a deliberate element in storytelling to create an emotional connection.
Bathos is often the result of an unsuccessful attempt to inspire awe, grandeur, or admiration, which instead produces laughter or cringes due to its sudden drop into the absurd or mundane. Pathos, on the other hand, is skillfully used to draw out feelings of compassion or empathy, and is considered a powerful tool in literature and rhetoric when used effectively.
An example of bathos could be a dramatic narrative that suddenly includes an oddly out-of-place or silly comment or event, breaking the intended noble or elevated mood. Pathos could be exemplified by a narrative that describes the struggles of a relatable character, which resonates deeply with the audience, causing them to feel moved or touched.
Bathos may be employed intentionally for comedic effect, often seen in parodies or satirical works. Pathos, while it can be overdone, is generally employed with sincerity, aiming to deepen the audience's emotional investment and connection to the content.
In summary, bathos is typically a flaw or an intentional comedic tool, resulting in an anti-climactic effect, while pathos is a persuasive technique that appeals to the audience's emotions, particularly those of sympathy and empathy.

Comparison Chart


Unintended shift from serious to trivial
Evokes sympathy or sadness


Often unintentional or comically intended
Deliberate emotional appeal

Emotional Effect

Comic relief or ridicule
Pity, sorrow, empathy

Literary Use

Mistake in high rhetoric or satire
Emotional persuasion in narratives

Audience Reaction

Laughter or cringing
Emotional connection or tears

Bathos and Pathos Definitions


Unintended humor due to a sudden drop in dignity.
Her solemn tale of lost love ended in bathos with a mention of her stained dress.


The aspect of a literary work that stirs up emotions.
Shakespeare's plays are known for their pathos, particularly in tragedies like 'King Lear.'


An anticlimactic descent from the important to the trivial.
The speech veered into bathos when he compared global warming to forgetting his lunch.


Emotional appeal used in rhetoric or literature.
The candidate's speech was filled with pathos to appeal to voters' emotions.


A failed attempt at evoking grandeur or passion.
The film's bathos was clear when the hero's profound monologue was interrupted by a burp.


A quality that evokes pity or sadness.
The pathos of the orphan's story moved the audience to tears.


Overdone sentimentality that becomes absurd.
The novel's attempt at tragedy ended in bathos with its overly flowery language.


The power to evoke feelings of compassion.
Her speech had such pathos that it inspired a wave of charitable donations.


Juxtaposition of the sublime with the ridiculous.
The poet's bathos was evident when the divine ode to nature mentioned toilet paper.


A tool for creating a deep emotional experience.
The pathos of the film was so intense that it stayed with viewers long after.


An abrupt, presumably unintended juxtaposition of the exalted and the commonplace, producing a ludicrous effect.


A quality, as of an experience or a work of art, that arouses feelings of pity, sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow.


An anticlimax.


The feeling, as of sympathy or pity, so aroused.


What is pathos in literature?

Pathos is a quality that evokes emotions like pity, sadness, or sympathy in literature.

Can bathos be used intentionally?

Yes, bathos can be used intentionally for comedic or satirical effect.

Is bathos always funny?

It's often humorous, but can also induce cringing or discomfort.

Is pathos a positive or negative trait in writing?

Pathos is considered positive when effectively used to connect with the audience emotionally.

Can bathos occur in music?

Yes, when a piece abruptly shifts from serious to comically trivial.

What is bathos in literature?

Bathos is an abrupt transition from a serious tone to a trivial or ludicrous one, often unintentionally.

Why is pathos important in speeches?

Because it helps speakers connect emotionally with their audience, persuading them more effectively.

How can a writer avoid bathos?

By maintaining a consistent tone and avoiding over-the-top sentimentality.

What's an example of bathos?

An example is a hero's speech being undercut by a trivial or silly occurrence.

What's an example of pathos?

A character's heart-wrenching struggle that elicits empathy from the audience.

Does pathos relate to empathy?

Yes, pathos often seeks to generate empathy in the audience.

Can pathos be too manipulative?

Overuse or heavy-handed pathos can feel manipulative to the audience.

How do audiences typically react to bathos?

With laughter or surprise at the sudden shift in tone.

How can a writer enhance pathos?

Through detailed storytelling that resonates emotionally with the audience.

Is pathos always sad?

Not always sad, but it always involves an emotional appeal.

Can pathos be found in all art forms?

Yes, any art form that evokes emotion can contain pathos.

Does bathos diminish the quality of a work?

Unintentional bathos can, but when used intentionally, it can enhance the satire or comedy.

Is bathos a literary mistake?

It can be a mistake or a deliberate literary device.

How do audiences typically react to pathos?

With emotional responses such as tears or a feeling of compassion.

What is the difference between pathos and a pathetic fallacy?

Pathos refers to emotional appeal, while a pathetic fallacy attributes human emotions to nature.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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