What is pathos?

Pathos is a form of appeal which appeals to the receivers’ emotions. The sender appeals to pathos with the intention of making an emotional impact on the receivers to persuade them of a particular message. 

Pathos can appeal to positive or negative emotions, depending on the sender’s intention. If a politician wants to assure people that she will make a good prime minister, she might seek to evoke feelings of hope and optimism. Conversely, if she is looking to warn people about the consequences of voting the opposition into power, she might play on feelings of fear and pessimism. 

Here, we give you a list of examples of some of the emotions which senders may try to inspire in their receivers when creating pathos appeals.

Positive emotions

  • Happiness
  • Hope
  • Compassion
  • Patriotism/nationalism
  • Optimism
  • Gratitude

Negative emotions

  • Sorrow
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Contempt/disgust
  • Shame
  • Pessimism
  • Outrage

Elements in a text that might be a pathos appeal

Before you start searching for pathos appeals in a text, you should note that it is usually the intention that determines if an element is in fact an appeal to pathos. The text’s attempt to appeal to the receivers’ emotions must be a deliberate attempt to persuade the receivers of something. In other words, there must always be an appeal from the sender.

One example of a situation which is not a pathos appeal could be that you get a feeling of outrage when listening to a speech by a politician that you personally disagree with. This cannot be classified as a pathos appeal since it most likely was not part of the sender’s strategy to inspire outrage. Another example could be that you start laughing at a wedding speech you are listening to despite it being obvious that the speaker did not intend for it to be funny. This, too, is no pathos appeal. 

Below, we go through some of the ...

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