This problem is originated from an app I'm using for learning English called Grammar English. The question and the options:

John was just __ grateful that all his friends bothered to read his first book.

[A] toughly

[B] pathetically

[C] resiliently

[D] mischievously

At first, my answer was [A] because I thought that the adverb toughly would fit becauce I assumed it has similar meaning with extremely. I've consulted to Oxford Collocations Dictionary and the asverb extremely is listed there, but not about pathetically.

Nevertheless, the app gives the asnwer [B]. Even though after re-reading for many times, I don't think it makes sense.

According to OALD, pathetically means

[1] in a way that makes you feel sad or

[2] (informal, disapproving) in a way that is weak and not successful

, wheras, toughly means

[1] in a way that demands that particular rules be obeyed and shows a lack of sympathy for any problems or difficulty that this may cause or

[2] in a way that shows somebody is strong or determined

2 Answers 2


I don't think that either meaning of "toughly" works well for the sentence. In fact, "toughly" is a pretty rare adverb in English.

I think that the person who wrote this question meant that few people read John's book (only his friends), so he is pathetic, i.e., we can "feel sad" for him and he is "not successful". However, I agree that it's not a very good answer.

  • 2
    Pathetically grateful is an established phrase describing someone who is very unfortunate or unsuccessful and is grateful for any small marks of favour they receive. Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 8:56
  • @KateBunting Thank you! I don't recall having heard that expression before. (I'm in the U.S.) Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 10:46
  • 1
    I'm in the US, I have heard it, and Ngrams suggests that it's not rare: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – stangdon
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 12:55

Of the four answers listed, three create idiomatic English phrases: "pathetically grateful", "resiliently grateful", and "mischievously grateful" are all phrase you might hear a native or fluent English speaker say in various circumstances. "Toughly grateful" is not idiomatic, and in fact, the adjective "toughly" is a word that is very rarely used.

The meaning of each of these phrases is as follows.

pathetically grateful

The person is grateful in a way that makes him "pathetic". A pathetic person is not only a failure, but weak. The dictionary will say that he is "pitiable", but the way we use the word does not imply sympathy, but rather disdain. If someone is pathetic, we ''look down on them''. I hope you can imagine what sort of gratitude would make someone seem pathetic. For example, you could say a strong person who is genuinely grateful for being given pity is pathetic, as strong people should not want pity.

resiliently grateful

Someone who is resiliently grateful is continuously grateful despite events and circumstances that you would expect would cause him to stop being grateful. For example, let's say Mary saved David's life. David is very grateful to Mary. Mary then proceeds to abuse David, causing him great difficulties in his life. If David is still grateful after the abuse, he is "resiliently grateful". His gratefulness has resilience.

mischievously grateful

Someone who is mischievously grateful is someone who is thankful, but the thing they are thankful for is something that contributes to their mischief. Perhaps John is playing a trick on Sarah, and asks Robert for a favor to help him unwittingly play the trick. In this circumstance, he would be mischievously grateful towards Robert for the help, especially if Robert doesn't know that this help is going to be a trick on Sarah.

Now, with these three definitions, we need to choose one that fits the sentence. The key word, later in the sentence, is "bothered". His friends "bothered" to read his book. This is not a mischievous situation, so [D] is not an option. The sentence doesn't suggest he is enduring to be grateful over a long period of time-- the tense suggests he is only now starting to be grateful. So only [B] can be the answer. It is pathetic for a man to be grateful at being given a "pity read" of his book.

This is correct and idiomatic.

  • 1
    Neither "resiliently grateful" nor "mischievously grateful" is an idiomatic phrase. The example you came up with for "mischievously grateful" is particularly tortured.
    – Katy
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 5:00
  • What is 'pathetic' (inspiring pity) is the expression of gratitude. Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 8:56

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