empathy and sympathy - the difference
The Quick AnswerEmpathy denotes the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (having shared the same, or a similar, experience).
Sympathy denotes feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.
Empathy and SympathyWriters often confuse empathy and sympathy. These two words are similar in meaning, but they are not the same. If you use the wrong one, you will either change the meaning of your sentence or be spotted as someone who doesn't know the difference.
A Video SummaryHere is a short video summarizing the difference between empathy and sympathy:
EmpathyThe noun empathy denotes the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This ability usually derives from having shared the same, or a similar, experience. For example, you can have empathy for a poor person if you are, or were, poor. More examples:
- I have empathy for your problem. I've been there.
- Empathy is at the heart of the actor's art. (Meryl Streep)
- The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy. (also Meryl Streep)
- Friendship is a living thing that lasts only as long as it is nourished with kindness, empathy and understanding. (anon)
- I can empathize with you. I've been there.
- He will empathize with you. He managed the same department for ten years.
SympathyThe noun sympathy denotes feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune. For example:
- You have my utmost sympathy. You trained like a demon for that race.
- I would like to extend my sympathy to your son. I'm very sorry to hear of the death of his goldfish.
- The vicar will sympathize with you. She knows how hard you trained. (There is no suggestion the vicar has trained hard herself (that would be empathize not sympathize). As a result, the preposition with does not feel right with to sympathize because sympathizing usually means you haven't experienced the bad event yourself. With seems a better fit for empathize. However, it is used with both verbs.)
- It's hard not to have sympathy with their claims.
- It's clear from her inaction that she sympathizes with their cause.
Interactive ExerciseHere are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.
See Alsoadverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose?
What are adjectives? What are prepositions? Glossary of easily confused words