Envy or Jealousy?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Envy" and "Jealousy"?

Envy and jealousy are easy to confuse because they are both negative emotions towards another person. However, they are different. Typically, "jealousy" is a three-person situation, but "envy" is a two-person situation. The difference between "envy" and "jealousy" is linked to the person or thing being desired.
  • "Jealousy" is a negative emotion towards someone that is related to your things (usually a person in a relationship). For example:
    • I am filled with jealousy when you speak to my girlfriend. correct tick
    • (Here, there are three people involved.)
  • "Envy" is a negative emotion towards someone related to their things. For example:
    • I am filled with envy over your new house. correct tick
    • (Here, there are two people involved.)
envy or jealousy?

More about "Envy" and "Jealousy"

Even though the words "envy" and "jealousy" are used interchangeably these days, there is a clear distinction between the two words that is still observed by language purists.

Jealousy over My Things but Envy over Your Things

The noun "jealousy" describes a negative emotion caused by an attack on something we already have (usually a person in a relationship). It contrasts with "envy," which is a negative emotion caused by wanting something owned by someone else (usually a possession or a personal trait).

Examples:
  • I felt jealous when you danced with my wife. correct tick
  • ("Jealousy" is about protecting something you already have.)
  • I felt envious of your good looks. correct tick
  • ("Envy" is about wanting something somebody else has.)
  • I'm really jealous of your new car. wrong cross
  • (This should be "envious" not "jealous.")
The adjective "jealous" comes from "jealousy," and the adjective "envious" comes from "envy."

Even Homer Simpson Knows the Difference

This video shows Homer educating Lisa on the distinction between "jealous" and "envious."

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

JEL on Social Media and Text Speak

The distinction between "envy" and "jealousy" is disappearing fast. The blurring of this distinction is being accelerated by terms such as JEL (jealous), JEAL (jealous), JELLO (jealous), and JELLY (jealous), which are commonly used on social-media platforms to mean "envious," "envy," "jealous," or "jealousy."

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