[ sim-puh-thet-ik ]
/ ˌsɪm pəˈθɛt ɪk /


characterized by, proceeding from, exhibiting, or feeling sympathy; sympathizing; compassionate: a sympathetic listener.
acting or affected by, of the nature of, or pertaining to a special affinity or mutual relationship; congenial: With their many similar tastes, he found her a most sympathetic companion.
looking upon with favor (often followed by to or toward): She is sympathetic to the project.
Anatomy, Physiology.
  1. pertaining to that part of the autonomic nervous system consisting of nerves that arise from the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spinal cord, and functioning in opposition to the parasympathetic system, as in stimulating heartbeat, dilating the pupil of the eye, etc.
  2. Obsolete. pertaining to the autonomic nervous system in its entirety.
Physics. noting or pertaining to vibrations, sounds, etc., produced by a body as the direct result of similar vibrations in a different body.



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Origin of sympathetic

1635–45; <New Latin sympathēticus<Greek sympathētikós.See sym-, pathetic

OTHER WORDS FROM sympathetic


empathetic, sympathetic , simpatico Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


What does sympathetic mean?

Sympathetic means having sympathy—having the same emotions as someone else, especially sadness.

Being sympathetic in this way is usually understood to mean that you feel bad for someone because they are in a negative situation.

Sympathetic is also sometimes used to mean supportive of or loyal to someone or something, as in The governor is trying to portray himself as sympathetic to the working class.

Sometimes, sympathetic is used to describe a person (or fictional character) who you can identify with and care about, as in His political ads try to make him look like a sympathetic figure.  

To be sympathetic toward someone is to sympathize with them. The opposite of sympathetic is unsympathetic.

Some people use the word sympathetic interchangeably or in overlapping ways with the word empathetic, which means having or tending to have empathy—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. However, others distinguish the two terms by emphasizing the importance of being empathetic toward others (feeling their pain) as opposed to being sympathetic toward them (feeling sorry for them).

Example: I’ve experienced the same thing, so I’m sympathetic toward them.

Where does sympathetic come from?

The first records of sympathetic come from the 1600s. It comes from the Greek sympathētikós, from sym-, “with,” and páth(os), “suffering.”

Sympathetic is usually used to describe someone who shares feelings of sadness with others. When we give someone a card that expresses our condolences after the death of a loved one, we call this a sympathy card. We usually give these cards to people when we didn’t know the person who died as well as they did—we may feel sad because they’re sad, but our level of grief does not match their own.

While being sympathetic toward someone often means pitying them or feeling bad for them, being empathetic often means feeling or attempting to feel and understand exactly how a person feels and what it’s like to be them.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to sympathetic?

What are some synonyms for sympathetic?

What are some words that share a root or word element with sympathetic

What are some words that often get used in discussing sympathetic?

What are some words sympathetic may be commonly confused with?

How is sympathetic used in real life?

Sympathetic is often used in context involving the suffering and grief of others,  but it’s also commonly used to describe people who are supportive or in favor of something or someone.

Try using sympathetic!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of sympathetic?

A. commiserating
B. compassionate
C. indifferent
D. sensitive

Example sentences from the Web for sympathetic

British Dictionary definitions for sympathetic

/ (ˌsɪmpəˈθɛtɪk) /


characterized by, feeling, or showing sympathy; understanding
in accord with the subject's personality or mood; congeniala sympathetic atmosphere
(when postpositive, often foll by to or towards) showing agreement (with) or favour (towards)sympathetic to the proposals
anatomy physiol of or relating to the division of the autonomic nervous system that acts in opposition to the parasympathetic system accelerating the heartbeat, dilating the bronchi, inhibiting the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, etcCompare parasympathetic
relating to vibrations occurring as a result of similar vibrations in a neighbouring bodysympathetic strings on a sitar

Derived forms of sympathetic

sympathetically, adverb
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

Medical definitions for sympathetic

[ sĭm′pə-thĕtĭk ]


Of, relating to, or acting on the sympathetic nervous system.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.