Sympathy and empathy are two commonly confused words in the English language. Many people make the mistake of using these nouns interchangeably, often thinking they are synonyms for each other. However, although they are related, there is a difference between the meaning of sympathy and empathy and how you use these two words.
While the words sympathy and empathy are both used as nouns in a sentence— and, as feelings, one often leads to the other—their meanings are quite different.
Sympathy is a shared feeling, usually of sorrow, pity or compassion for another person. You show concern for another person when you feel sympathy for them.
For example, when someone loses a loved one, you feel sympathy towards that person and their family. You may share a feeling of sadness with them, but you might not have empathy for their situation if you have not experienced, or cannot imagine experiencing, a death in the family.
Empathy is stronger than sympathy. It is the ability to put yourself in the place of another and understand someone else's feelings by identifying with them. With empathy, you put yourself in another's shoes, often feeling things more deeply than if you just felt sympathy.
For example, someone lacking empathy may not be able to understand why another person is upset over a situation if they cannot imagine themselves in that person's place. Someone has empathy if they can put themselves in the same situation and perceive how the other person is feeling, even if they do not share those feelings.
Using Sympathy and Empathy in a Sentence
To understand how to get across the idea of sympathy and empathy, take a look at these examples of the words used in sentences.
- I was saddened to hear of his passing and gave his family my deepest sympathy.
- After watching the news, they expressed sympathy for the victims of the earthquake.
- Everyone in the office signed a sympathy card when her father died and sent it to her home to let her know we cared.
- The class sent a sweet letter of sympathy to the teacher when her husband passed away.
- We didn't expect a sympathy vote in the election, but, happily, the underdog won.
- Jo had never been dumped, but she had real sympathy for her friend who was going through a bad breakup.
- We felt such sympathy for our neighbors who lost everything in the wildfires and donated what we could.
- Stella told the teacher that she did not like the troubled main characters in the book because she did not have empathy for them.
- Surprisingly, her parents showed empathy and calmly listened to her side of the story.
- The police officers showed great empathy toward those involved in the crash.
- Jury service is not easy; I definitely did not have empathy for the criminals in this case.
- The killer could not offer any empathy for his victims or their families.
- Since I became a mother, I have developed a great deal of empathy for those who have lost children.
- As I had lost my job last year, I had empathy for my friend when she was fired.
- She has empathy for those struggling with addiction since she is a recovering addict.
The Head and the Heart
An easy way to stop the confusion between sympathy and empathy is to remember this: sympathy is a feeling you share with another person; empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of another person. To put it another way, it's a difference between the head (empathy) and the heart (sympathy).
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"What\'s the Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy?." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 21 September 2018. <http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/grammar/style-and-usage/what-s-the-difference-between-sympathy-and-empathy.html>.
What\'s the Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy?. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21st, 2018, from http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/grammar/style-and-usage/what-s-the-difference-between-sympathy-and-empathy.html