Intermediate+ Word of the Day: pat

pat (verb, noun, adjective) /pæt/ LISTEN

To pat means ‘to strike gently with the hand, so as to smooth, shape, or flatten a surface’ and also ‘to stroke gently as a sign of affection.’ As a noun, a pat is a light stroke and also a small, flat piece of something formed by patting. Additionally, pat is an adjective that means ‘exactly to the point or purpose’ but also ‘shallow and unconvincing,’ because it sounds rehearsed and unnatural.

Example sentences

  • Tania patted the dough into shape.
  • Steve patted the dog.
  • Judy felt a pat on her back.
  • The pat of butter was melting in the summer heat.
  • The team came up with a pat solution to the problem.
  • The detectives were not convinced by Dave's pat answers.

Words often used with pat

have down pat: have something exactly, perfectly. Example: “Annie had her performance down pat.”

pat down: to move your hands lightly over someone’s body to check for concealed weapons or anything illegal. Example: “The police officer patted down the suspect.”

cowpat (UK): a piece of cow poop. Example: “Amanda was crossing a field when she stepped in a cowpat.”

pat on the back: praise, congratulations, or encouragement. The expression is generally not literally meant, so if your boss gives you a pat on the back, that just means that he/she has given you some praise or encouragement, rather than a physical pat. Example: “The teacher’s kind words were a real pat on the back for the struggling student.”

In pop culture

Pat is also a shortened form of the names Patrick and Patricia. You can listen to Pat Benatar singing “Love is a Battlefield” here:

Additional information

As a root, –pat– comes from Latin where it means ‘suffer’ or ‘experience.’ It can be found in words like: compatible, patient, patience.

Did you know?

A patty is a small flattened cake of food. It can be made of minced meat or vegetables. Here is a recipe, tried and tested by a member of the Word of the Day team, if you would like to try making patties.


Pat, meaning ‘a strike or a blow,’ dates back to the late 14th century. Its origin is unknown, but thought to be imitative of the sound of a blow. The sense evolved, over time, so that by the 18th century, it no longer meant a blow but a very light tap with an open hand. The meaning ‘something formed by patting,’ such as a pat of butter, dates back to the mid-17th century. The expression ‘pat on the back’ first appeared in the early 19th century. The verb, originally meaning ‘to strike’ or ‘to throw,’ dates back to the mid-16th century. Like the noun, the meaning evolved to ‘hit lightly with an open hand’ by the 18th century. The adjective pat, which describes something ‘exactly to the point or purpose,’ ‘apt,’ ‘timely’ or ‘suitable,’ is also used sometimes as an adverb (‘aptly, suitably’), dates back to the early 17th century (the adverb is a bit older, from the late 16th century). Its origin is unknown, but some linguists believe that it is a figurative take on the original meaning of the noun, meaning ‘a hit or strike’ on the exact point.

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