Empathy refers to the ability to deeply understand and share someone else’s
feelings or situation. The verb form is empathize. For example, if you were bullied
or made fun of as a child, you have empathy with kids who are currently being
bullied. If you started your own company and you know how challenging it is, you
can empathize with someone who is doing the same thing.
It’s also possible to feel empathy even if you haven’t had direct experience of a
situation. A nurse can have deep empathy for her patients, even if she has never
been hospitalized herself. But she is familiar with her patients’ situations, sensitive
to their feelings, and listens to them express their emotions.
The noun sympathy can mean:
1) You feel sorry because another person is sad, or because something
bad happened to that person. When somebody’s relative dies, you
express your sympathy for their loss. (Sometimes people express
heartfelt sympathy or their deepest sympathy – for emphasis).
2) If you are in sympathy with someone, it means you agree with them,
or your goals are in line with their goals. If you work for an
organization that helps poor people, and your friend has a project to
provide school supplies to poor children, then his work is in sympathy
The verb sympathize can be used for feeling bad for someone:
▶️ We sympathize with the victims’ families.
(= we feel sorry because they have lost a loved one)
It can also be used for agreeing with goals or thoughts:
▶️ He sympathizes with a radical political party.
(= he tends to agree with that party’s philosophies)
To summarize, empathy is when you feel what another person feels (it can be good
or bad feelings). Sympathy is when you feel bad for another person’s sadness, or
when your thoughts/goals are in line with someone else’s.