The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

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Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

When you consider these two words Empathy vs Sympathy, they seem similar and most of us wouldn’t think twice before using any one of them, as the difference between Sympathy and Empathy is rather subtle.

Both these words are connected with feelings and emotions that a person has towards another person. But the difference exists, though both the words are derived from the same Greek root and the difference is rather nuanced or subtle.

Both empathy and sympathy are the two pillars of your emotional intelligence and they both have plenty of social and personal benefits in your life.

Let’s check out the difference between these two traits, both of which are collectively good for society.

Roots and Origin of Empathy and Sympathy

Both the words, sympathy and empathy have their origin in the Greek root ‘pathos’, which could mean feeling, suffering or disease.

  • When you have ‘path’ for someone, you feel for them.
  • The root word ‘pathos’ also means disease, as you don’t ‘feel’ so good when you have a disease.
  • The word Sympathetic consists of a combination of ‘feeling’ and ‘with’, as ‘sym’ implies ‘together’ or ‘with’ or ‘at the same time’, similar to the sym seen in words like ‘symmetry’ ‘synonym’ ‘symposium’ etc.
  • The word Empathetic consists of a combination of ‘feeling’ and ‘like that of another’.
  • The word ‘sympathy’ comes from the Greek word ‘sympatheia’, whereas the word ‘empathy’ comes from the Greek word ‘empatheia’.
  • Sympathy is the older of the two, dating to the mid 1500s, whereas ‘Empathy’ is a comparatively newer word appearing in English in the year 1909.
Empathy vs Sympathy

Read: 9 Remarkable Signs You Were Meant To Be A Writer

What is Sympathy

Whenever we consider the word ‘Sympathy’ it evokes a sense of suffering or pain in someone and a sharing of that pain with them.

  • Sympathy is rather like pity. Showing sympathy these days is more of saying what is expected and comes with a lot of platitudes, such as using the words ‘I’m sorry’.
  • Sympathy consists of acknowledgement of the grief someone is going through.


  •  If you have heard about an earthquake, you might be motivated to make a donation of clothes or money in order to relieve the suffering of the people affected. Similarly, you can have sympathy towards victims of a train accident, but you cannot empathise with them.
  • You hear about a death and send a card to the bereaved, thereby showing your sympathy.
  • When a friend is grieving over the loss or death of her mother, you feel sympathy for him/her, as you are also sad and grieve with them, but you are not able to feel empathy, as you have not undergone a similar experience.

What is Empathy

Tip: Check out these empathetic responses for when something bad happens to a loved one!

  • Empathy is the capability of understanding and sharing others’ and emotions and even mirroring or demonstrating this feeling to them. In simple words, it is understanding other people’s point of view or perspective.
  • People can feel empathy better if they have had a similar experience or been in that same situation. For instance, your friend was able to console you probably because he had also received a failed grade earlier.


  • You’re a student who has failed in an assignment, so you are disappointed, even depressed. Your friends take you out, say how sorry they are for you. They understand perfectly how you are feeling and console you, tell you not to be too harsh on yourself. They are literally putting themselves in your shoes. This kind of response or reaction is empathy.
  • Alcoholics attending an AA meeting will find others able to feel empathy, as they have experienced similar situations.

Also See: Every, Each, All, Some, Any Explained: When to Use

Note: People suffering from Autism have a tough time with cognitive empathy.

The Similarity Between Sympathy and Empathy

  • Both the words, sympathy and empathy, are related with emotional factors.
  • Both the words show some concern for the well being and situation of another person.

The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy

Difference Sympathy and Empathy
  • A sympathetic person feels for others but need not have experienced or gone through the same situation and emotions as the other. On the other hand, when you empathise, you have mutually shared feelings. You are able to identify with the other person’s sorrows or feelings as you have also experienced similar feelings within yourself due to similar circumstances.
  • When you ask a person who is wounded about how he feels, it means you’re showing sympathy towards him. But when you become the wounded person yourself and vicariously experience that person’s suffering.

The Winner

Now that we’re done with the meaning, the similarities and the differences between the two words sympathy and empathy,  ‘empathy’ seems to rather win over ‘sympathy’, especially when you are considering the grief of another person. Empathy means you are more in tune with the other person’s feelings and experiences. Most people are satisfied with being sympathetic, about caring for others’ misfortunes.

According to research, you can boost your empathetic levels or empathy in a person by reading more fiction and getting immersed in the characters and their sufferings.

Tip: Take this quiz from Berkeley to test your empathy level!!!

Must Read: Difference Between How About You and What About You

Wrap Up – Empathy vs Sympathy

We humans are renowned for our selfishness and utter disregard for others and it just seems to be increasing with time. The main cause of this wrong approach towards life and others is the diminishing of empathy among us.

Sympathy versus Empathy

The good news is that empathy can actually be imbibed. All you need is to put yourself in the shoes of someone else. It will yield amazing social benefits, can improve your interactions with family, friends and strangers for the rest of your life. Watch a tear jerker. Go ahead! Have a good cry, it won’t hurt once in a while. You’ll be more in tune with others. Develop your empathy skills, listen to others, share their joys and sorrows. Do it today!

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