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.
To understand how to get across the idea of sympathy and empathy, take a look at these examples of the words used in sentences.
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).