Sympathy vs. Empathy

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Empathy and sympathy are often confused. Their meanings are similar, as well as their spellings and pronunciations. Even the most seasoned speakers of the English language can use these two words incorrectly. Let's spend some time looking at the meanings of empathy and sympathy so that you will avoid the same mistake.

Empathy is a noun that refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else. It goes beyond feeling compassion for someone else's misfortune, as it means that you feel the sorrow or pain as if it were your own.

1. Because I had a brother who died when we were young, I have empathy for the family of the boy who was killed in the car accident last week.

2. When Sara tripped over her shoelaces, fell, and was laughed at by the entire lunchroom, I felt empathy for her.

3. Some people seem to have a greater capacity for empathy than others, often crying at sad commercials and movies as if they were real.

Sympathy is a noun that refers to a feeling sorrow or pity for another person's sadness or misfortune. While you feel for the person-have compassion for them-you don't necessarily empathize with them-or feel their sadness or pain as your own.

1. When my dog died, my friends expressed sympathy for me by giving me cards and pictures that they had drawn.

2. It's very difficult to know what to say to express sympathy when a family loses a loved one.

3. When Kevin broke his leg and couldn't play football anymore, I felt sympathy for him, but I couldn't empathize because I've never broken my leg . . . or liked to play football.

In summary, the two words are similar, but they are not interchangeable. Empathy is more personal, as you take on the feelings of the other as if they were your own. Sympathy is about feeling compassion for the other without taking on their pain.

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