[ em-puh-thee ]
/ ˈɛm pə θi /
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the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the emotions, thoughts, or attitudes of another: She put an arm around her friend’s shoulders and stood by her in silent empathy.
the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.


What Is The Real Difference Between "Empathy" And "Sympathy"?

Empathy and sympathy both describe feelings, especially toward another person. But what is the real difference between them?

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Origin of empathy

First recorded in 1900–05; from Greek empátheia “affection,” equivalent to em- “in, within” (see em-2) + path- (base of páschein “to suffer”) + -eia noun suffix (see -ia); its present meaning translates German Einfühlung

synonym study for empathy

1. See sympathy.


empathy , sympathy (see synonym study at sympathy)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does empathy mean?

Empathy is the ability or practice of imagining or trying to deeply understand what someone else is feeling or what it’s like to be in their situation.

Empathy is often described as the ability to feel what others are feeling as if you are feeling it yourself. To feel empathy for someone is to empathize. People who do this are described as empathetic.

Some people use the word empathy interchangeably or in overlapping ways with the word sympathy, which generally means the sharing of emotions with someone else, especially sadness. However, others distinguish the two terms by emphasizing the importance of having empathy for others (feeling their pain) as opposed to having sympathy for them (feeling sorry for them).

Example: Having faced many of the same challenges, Nyala has empathy for immigrants and what it feels like to go through those challenges.

Where does empathy come from?

The first records of the word empathy come from the late 1800s from the context of psychology. The word comes from a translation of the German term Einfühlung, which literally means “a feeling in.” It ultimately derives from the Greek empátheia, meaning “affection” or “passion,” from em-, meaning “in,” and path-, the base of a verb meaning “to suffer.” In contrast, the sym- in sympathy means “with” or “together.”

While having sympathy for someone often means pitying them or feeling bad for them, having empathy is feeling or attempting to feel and understand exactly how a person feels and what it’s like to be them. When you have empathy for someone, you identify with them—as if you were them. In other words, empathy is the ability to feel and understand what it’s like to be “in someone else’s shoes.” Empathy usually involves showing kindness and having compassion—the desire to do something to help a person and reduce their pain. People described as empathetic or empathic due to being very sensitive to the emotions of others are sometimes called empathists or empaths.

A less common and more specific sense of empathy refers to the process of projecting one’s feelings onto an object. This is especially used in the context of art to refer to artists embedding their emotions in their work.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to empathy?

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How is empathy used in real life?

Empathy is often used in discussions about how people should try to have more of it.



Try using empathy!

Which of the following actions is an example of having empathy?

A. Feeling sorry for someone
B. Ignoring someone
C. Imagining how someone feels
D. Complimenting someone

How to use empathy in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for empathy

/ (ˈɛmpəθɪ) /

the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person's feelingsSee also identification (def. 3b)
the attribution to an object, such as a work of art, of one's own emotional or intellectual feelings about it

Derived forms of empathy

empathist, noun

Word Origin for empathy

C20: from Greek empatheia affection, passion, intended as a rendering of German Einfühlung, literally: a feeling in; see en- ², -pathy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for empathy

[ (em-puh-thee) ]

Identifying oneself completely with an object or person, sometimes even to the point of responding physically, as when, watching a baseball player swing at a pitch, one feels one's own muscles flex.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.