: an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other
: mutual or parallel susceptibility or a condition brought about by it
: unity or harmony in action or effect
every part is in complete sympathy with the scheme as a whole—Edwin Benson
: inclination to think or feel alike : emotional or intellectual accord
in sympathy with their goals
: feeling of loyalty : tendency to favor or support
: the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another
: the feeling or mental state brought about by such sensitivity
have sympathy for the poor
: the correlation existing between bodies capable of communicating their vibrational energy to one another through some medium
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?
Sympathy is a feeling of sincere concern for someone who is experiencing something difficult or painful. Empathy involves actively sharing in the person’s emotional experience. Sympathy has been in use since the 16th century. It comes ultimately from the Greek sympathēs, meaning “having common feelings, sympathetic,” which was formed from syn- (“with, together with”) and páthos, “experience, misfortune, emotion, condition.” Empathy was modeled on sympathy; it was coined in the early 20th century as a translation of the German Einfühlung (“feeling-in” or “feeling into”), and was first applied in contexts of philosophy, aesthetics, and psychology. Empathy continues to have technical use in those fields that sympathy does not. For more on this pair see this article.
What is the difference between sympathy and compassion?
Compassion adds to the emotional experience of sympathy an urgent desire to alleviate the person’s distress. While both sympathy and compassion have been in use for hundreds of years, compassion is more than 200 years older. It dates to the 14th century and ultimately comes from Latin com- and pati, meaning “to bear, suffer.”
What is the difference between sympathy and pity?
Pity and sympathy can both refer to a feeling of sadness and concern for someone who is unhappy or is suffering. Pity also sometimes implies contemptuous sorrow for the person who is in misery or distress—that is, a sense of disapproval and strong dislike. Like sympathy, pity dates to the 14th century. It comes ultimately from Latin pius, meaning “pious”.
pity implies tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery or distress.
felt pity for the captives
compassion implies pity coupled with an urgent desire to aid or to spare.
treats the homeless with great compassion
commiseration suggests pity expressed outwardly in exclamations, tears, or words of comfort.
murmurs of commiseration filled the loser's headquarters
condolence applies chiefly to formal expression of grief to one who has suffered loss.
expressed their condolences to the widow
sympathy often suggests a tender concern but can also imply a power to enter into another's emotional experience of any sort.
went to my best friend for sympathy
in sympathy with her desire to locate her natural parents
Examples of sympathy in a Sentence
She went to her best friend for sympathy.
Letters of sympathy were sent to the families of the victims.
My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the victims.
Our sympathies are with them.
There was no sympathy between them.
Recent Examples on the WebThere is a growing proportion of Americans that have sympathy with the plight of innocent Palestinians, although many fewer that are positive about Hamas in any way.—Timothy Bella, Washington Post, 24 Nov. 2023 As the war rages on, the sympathy of some Americans appears to be shifting from Israel to the Palestinians in Gaza.—Bill Hutchinson, ABC News, 24 Nov. 2023 That public sympathy has at times taken an ugly turn on Chinese social media, where antisemitic comments have multiplied since the start of the conflict, although researchers note there have been Islamophobic posts as well.—Jennifer Jett, NBC News, 22 Nov. 2023 The original illustrator of The Velveteen Rabbit, William Nicholson, was said to have a natural sympathy for children that inspired his illustrations.1 Helena Bonham Carter, who voices the Wise Horse, knows Nicholson’s grandson Desmond Banks and introduced him to the production team.—Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal, Parents, 21 Nov. 2023 When the news breaks that Bezos had an extramarital affair with Lauren Sánchez—which is covered by the Post—Baron writes him an unctuous note offering his sympathies.—Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, 21 Nov. 2023 Before the vote, Johnson said his sympathies were with the far-right caucus.—Erin B. Logan, Los Angeles Times, 14 Nov. 2023 By Israel’s account, Al Shifa — the name of the hospital — has become shorthand for Hamas’ willingness to turn its own people into human shields and sacrifice them as cannon fodder in the fight for global sympathy.—Vivian Yee, New York Times, 12 Nov. 2023 Not surprising and somewhat difficult to find much sympathy.—Haley Strack, National Review, 10 Nov. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sympathy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Latin sympathia, from Greek sympatheia, from sympathēs having common feelings, sympathetic, from syn- + pathos feelings, emotion, experience — more at pathos