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We’ll Teach You The Difference Between “Jealousy” and “Envy”

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Did you know that “envy” and “jealousy” actually have two distinct meanings? We’ll explore the differences.

White text over green background reads "envy vs. jealousy."
Although many people consider “envy” and “jealousy” synonymous, they actually have distinct meanings.
  • Envy is “the painful feeling of wanting what someone else has, like attributes or possessions.”
  • If you’re jealous, you feel “threatened, protective, or fearful of losing one’s position or situation to someone else.”

“Envy” vs. “Jealousy”

Many people interchange the words envy and jealousy without causing much confusion. You can say Joshua is envious or Joshua is jealous, and your audience will most likely understand the message you’re trying to convey. However, these two words have different meanings. Read on if you want to use these words precisely, and make your friends envious that you know the difference.


What Does “Envy” Mean?

Envy is the longing to have what someone else has, whether it be attributes or possessions. Envy requires only two parties—you and someone else. For example, you may envy another student because they got a good grade on the exam, but you didn’t.

Envy can be used as a noun:

The envy she felt towards her sister getting a new car was apparent.

It can also be used as a verb:

I envied John because he got a bike for Christmas and I didn’t.

The adjective form of envy is envious.

After the ceremony, I was envious of all of Gaby’s accolades.
GIF of Homer Simpson with caption reading "Oh, how I envy you." (Envy vs. Jealousy)
Remember, “envy” only requires two parties.

What Does “Jealous” Mean?

To feel jealous means “to feel threatened, insecure, or protective of something you already have (especially in a romantic sense).”  Whereas envy requires two parties, jealousy requires three. For example, you might feel jealous of your best friend’s new friend because you feel as if you might get replaced.

Jealous is an adjective:

My girlfriend gets a bit jealous when I talk to girls she doesn’t know.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is a noun:

I couldn’t handle all the jealousy, so after five years of marriage, I asked for a divorce.

Keep in mind that theres no verb form of the word jealous.

GIF of Homer and Marge Simpson with caption reading "Will you stop acting so jealous?" (Jealousy vs. Envy)
“Jealousy” is when you feel that something you already have is threatened by a third person.

So, What’s The Difference Between “Jealous” and “Envious”?

The ambiguity between these two words comes from the fact that the word jealous can sometimes take the place of envious without altering the meaning of the sentence. For example, one can say:

The other employees are jealous of the new employee’s success.
The other employees are envious of the new employee’s success.

On the other hand, envious cannot take the place of jealous without changing the meaning of the sentence. For example, he is a jealous boyfriend does not mean the same thing as saying he is an envious boyfriend.

What you have to remember to use these words precisely is this: envy (the shorter word) requires two parties. It means you want what someone else has. Jealousy (the longer word) requires three parties and means you feel threatened or suspicious that someone might take what you already have.

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