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[roo-fuh l] /ˈru fəl/
causing sorrow or pity; pitiable; deplorable:
a rueful plight.
feeling, showing, or expressing sorrow or pity; mournful; doleful:
the rueful look on her face.
Origin of rueful
1175-1225; Middle English reowful. See rue1, -ful
Related forms
ruefully, adverb
ruefulness, noun
half-rueful, adjective
half-ruefully, adverb
unrueful, adjective
unruefully, adverb
unruefulness, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for rueful
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Not a bit, was the rueful response, but Im afraid the day-lilies are!

    The Turner Twins Ralph Henry Barbour
  • Captain Elisha, with a rueful smile, pointed to the floral centerpiece.

    Cap'n Warren's Wards Joseph C. Lincoln
  • "I think both things are explainable," Andrew replied with a rueful smile.

    For the Allinson Honor Harold Bindloss
  • "Naturally, and with reason," was the answer, delivered with a rueful smile.

    The Snare Rafael Sabatini
  • As the door closed behind him, Loring turned to me with a rueful shake of the head.

    Sonia Between two Worlds Stephen McKenna
British Dictionary definitions for rueful


feeling or expressing sorrow or repentance: a rueful face
inspiring sorrow or pity
Derived Forms
ruefully, adverb
ruefulness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for rueful

early 13c., rewfulle, reowfule, from rue (n.2) + -ful. Related: Ruefulness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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