- Sympathy is “feeling sorry for or experiencing pity in reaction to someone else’s misfortune.”
- Empathy is being able to “deeply connect, understand, and identify with the perspective, motivations, or emotions of another person.”
“Sympathy” vs. “Empathy”
One word can make all the difference in a sentence. For example, saying “I feel sympathy for you,” and “I feel empathy for you” convey two different messages. But, to understand why these sentences are distinct, you have to know the meaning of sympathy and empathy. Below, we’ll explore what each of these words mean and provide example sentences.
What Does “Sympathy” Mean?
The definition of sympathy is “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” This word can be used as a verb by adding -ize. So, when you sympathize with someone, you feel sorry for them, but might not necessarily know how it feels to go through that experience.
Anne’s father works at an office, so although she doesn’t know what it feels like to have a dad be deployed on a military mission, she had sympathy for Jorge, who was currently going through that.
All the coworkers signed a sympathy card when their boss’s wife passed away.
I sympathized with Georgina, whose cat recently died.
It’s worth noting that countries outside the United States spell this word as sympathise.
What Does “Empathy” Mean?
The definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” In other words, you don’t just feel bad for someone else’s misfortune, but you understand their feelings on a deeper level, and feel those emotions with them.
Empathy might be harder to achieve, but it’s been said that it is more effective than sympathy when it comes to helping a friend or loved one feel better. This is because feeling sorry for someone (or sympathizing with them) might alienate them, while empathy, or truly understanding their emotions or experiences, might make them feel less alone.
For example, if your friend is experiencing the loss of a loved one, and you went through a similar loss recently, it might be easy for you to empathize with them.
The responding police officers showed great empathy to everyone involved in the car accident.
Many rehab counselors can empathize with those suffering from drug abuse because they too experienced drug addiction.
I lost my job last year, so I felt empathy towards Julie when she told me she got fired.
Similarly, outside of American English, the preferred spelling of this word is empathise.
“Sympathy” or “Empathy”? The Difference Is Subtle but Important
Remember this: If you feel sorry, sadness, or pity for what someone else is going through, then you are experiencing sympathy. But if you connect with someone, and can truly feel what they feel, then you are feeling empathy towards them.