Friday, January 29, 2010

Ask Ashley - Sympathy vs. Empathy

It has recently been brought to my attention that it has been many months since I have posted an "Ask Ashley" question. So here goes...

Dear Ashley,

Since you're good with grammar, I figured I'd ask. What is the difference between sympathy and empathy? I never know which one to use, so I never use either.


Ah, Katie, I sympathize. It's tough getting ensnared in the enigmatic English language. I will try to simplify it for you.

Sympathy is for when you are talking about feelings that you yourself have not or are not experiencing. For example, "I offer my sympathy for the loss of your mother." Or "I am sympathetic to the plight of the people in Haiti."

Empathy is better used when you've "been there" yourself. "I empathize with you--I had Professor Smith's class last semester and he's a really tough teacher." Or, "I empathize about how miserable wearing a cast is. I had to wear one last year when I broke my leg."

I hope that helps!

Gotta question? Email steppedonalego at gmail dot com.

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