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Grammar and Pessimism

Grammar and Pessimism
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In a recent lesson, we explored a point of connection between grammar and optimism – a good or hopeful opinion of the world and future events.

In today’s lesson, we will explore pessimism – a bad or not hopeful view of the world and future events.

You will learn important ideas surrounding pessimism. You will also learn how English speakers are likely to use the term pessimism – and its related words – in everyday situations.

Coin comparison

When we learn and explore new words, it can sometimes be helpful to visualize them as coins. We have two sides – heads and tails. These are opposite sides of a coin.

In the same way, many words have opposite meanings. When we learn a new word, it can be helpful to ask the following question: what would the opposite of this word be?

In our previous lesson, we explored optimism – a hopeful view about the present and future. Today, we explore pessimism – not being hopeful about the present and future. In other words, optimism and pessimism are somewhat like opposite sides of a coin.

Nouns, adjective, adverb

Pessimism is a noun. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the word dates to 1794. At the time, it meant the worst condition possible. The word came to English from French.

By 1815, pessimism came to suggest the quality of making worse “in thought the evils of life or to look only on the dark side."

The Online Etymology Dictionary also tells us that English speakers attempted to make a verb form from pessimism in the early 1860s. But the word, pessimize, did not survive.

In modern times, we often use pessimism to talk about the general feeling or belief that bad things will happen.

From pessimism, we get the noun pessimist – a person who expects the worst or is likely to have bad views on life.

From the noun pessimist we add an –ic ending to get the adjective pessimistic. And when we add an –ally ending to the adjective pessimistic, we get the adverb pessimistically.


We have a group of words. Two nouns, an adjective, and an adverb. How do English speakers use these words in everyday situations?

Google’s Ngram Viewer contains information from thousands of books. We can do searches in databases for American English, English Fiction, and so on.

What we find is that in general, the most commonly used word before the noun pessimism is the short word “of.”

So, you are likely to read something like this:

I don't think so, he said in a voice full of pessimism.

Or this:

There are many causes for the high levels of pessimism in our society.

The most common word that comes before the noun “pessimist” and the adjective “pessimistic” is the same: a.

So, you are likely to hear or read something like this:

He is a pessimist.


He gave a pessimistic response.

There is another important point about the noun “pessimist” and the adjective “pessimistic.” Google Ngram Viewer suggests that pessimistic is more commonly used by English speakers.

So, if you are unsure about which version to use, remember that the adjective – the word that ends in –ic – might be a better choice.

And the most common word after pessimistic? It is “about.”

So, you might describe yourself as follows:

I am pessimistic about the future.

We certainly hope that you are not too pessimistic!

And one final word about the adverb pessimistically. It is most commonly used after the verb “said.”

So, you might hear or read this:

I don’t think so, he said pessimistically.


Now let’s take some time to work with these ideas. Fill in the blank with the correct word – noun, adjective, or adverb.

They have a ___________ view of the world.

The correct answer is this:

They have a pessimistic view of the world.

How do we know that the adjective “pessimistic” is needed? The short word “a” gives us a clue. And we know that “view” is a noun. In general, adjectives come before a noun and after the short word “a.”

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

visualize – v. to form a mental picture of something

response – n. something that is said as a reply to something else