Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê-mi-zêr-rayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: To sympathize (with), to show compassion for.

Notes: Although some dictionaries list pity as a synonym of commiserate, the two have slightly different meanings. Pitying someone is simply feeling sorry for their grief with a slight overtone of condescension. Commiseration (the noun) implies more equality, sharing their grief rather than feeling sorry for them. The adjective for this verb is commiserative and a person who commiserates with someone is a commiserator, with an O, not an E.

In Play: Remember: commiseration runs deeper than pity: "Gwendolyn could sincerely commiserate with Frederick for losing all the files on his computer since the same thing had happened to her the previous year." Commiseration is brought on by misfortune over which we have no control: "Lloyd found it difficult to commiserate with his sister for burning the roast because she was talking with her boyfriend for an hour on the telephone."

Word History: English has borrowed three words with the original meaning of "feeling with": Greek sympathy, Latin compassion and today's Good Word. Commiserate was taken from commiseratus "lamented, pitied", the past participle of commiserari "to pity, feel miserable with", made up of com- "(together) with" + miserari "to lament". You are right if you think miserari is remindful of English misery. The verb is based on the noun miseria "misery, misfortune". (So that we don't have to commiserate with Bryan Goff because of our failure to thank him for suggesting today's Good Word, let's take this opportunity to say, "Thanks, Brian.")

Dr. Goodword,

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