25 July 2022
15 August 2022.
Empathy and sympathy are related words that differ in meaning. Though they’re often used interchangeably, they differ in the kind of emotional involvement they describe.
Empathy is a noun describing the ability to relate to another person’s feelings by imagining yourself in their situation.
Sympathy is a noun describing compassion for another person who is facing difficult circumstances or negative feelings. It suggests that you feel pity for someone but don’t necessarily fully understand their feelings.
Empathy refers to the ability to imaginatively experience another person’s emotions or thoughts. The emphasis is on relating to another person’s feelings, whether intellectually or by connecting them to your own experiences: putting yourself in their shoes.
The verb form of empathy is empathise, meaning ‘to experience empathy for someone or something’. It’s commonly followed by the preposition ‘with’. The adjectival form of empathy is empathetic (or sometimes empathic).
‘Sympathy’ to mean compassion
Sympathy is typically used to describe compassion or pity for another person’s negative feelings or circumstances. It suggests that you feel bad for them, but not necessarily that you fully understand their feelings (though it doesn’t exclude this possibility).
The verb form of sympathy is sympathise, meaning ‘to experience sympathy for someone or something’. It’s commonly followed by the word ‘with’. The adjectival form of sympathy is sympathetic.
‘Sympathy’ to mean ‘unity’
Sympathy can also be used to describe something as working in harmony or in unity with other components. It’s preceded by the word ‘in’. Sometimes an adjective is added between the words for emphasis.
‘Sympathy’ to mean ‘loyalty’
Sympathy can also be used to describe a state of loyalty or a tendency to support a certain idea or group. In this context, it’s written in the plural form.
‘My (deepest) sympathies’
My sympathies is an expression commonly used to offer condolences to someone experiencing loss or grief. My deepest sympathies is a common variation of the expression. Either expression can be used on its own or as part of a sentence.
Worksheet: Sympathy vs empathy
Do you want to test your knowledge of the difference between ’empathy’ and ‘sympathy’? Use the practice worksheet below! Fill in a form of ’empathy’ or ‘sympathy’ in each of the sentences.