The horses were in a pitiful condition. They hadn’t been fed for weeks, and they had sore and infected patches all over their skin.
The children had made pitiful attempts to look after their mother but it was clear that the family could not manage.
You can use words like sorry and pathetic as synonyms for pitiful. Now these words pitiful, sorry and pathetic can also have quite a negative meaning. They can be used to mean a feeling of pity but mixed with contempt or disgust for the lack of skill or care or attention that’s caused the situation. Here’s an example:
After years of mismanagement, his finances were in a pitiful state.
And another one:
He made a couple of pitiful excuses about why he hadn’t finished his work, but they were not accepted.
And here are some synonyms for this second meaning of pitiful. They are: deplorable, woeful, disgraceful and contemptible.
Thanks for your question, Sandro!