So many aspects of our daily lives are governed by feelings and emotions. They pop up in a myriad of situations, both personal and professional. As content creators, we have to have an understanding of emotional intelligence in order to interact with clients and audiences.

This means that we also need to have an understanding of how to write about emotions. We can easily use basic emotional adjectives like happy, sad, and angry, but concepts like empathy and sympathy tend to trip people up. Tone is very important in writing. Whether you’re creating blog posts, email newsletters, or web copy for your audience, you need to ensure you are using the right words and tone.

Empathy vs. sympathy: understanding the difference

While empathy and sympathy are similar, there are some important distinctions between their definitions that you should be aware of the next time you’re writing or talking about these particular feelings.



Empathy is generally thought of as a stronger feeling than sympathy. When you empathize with someone, you are sharing their emotions. This is often because you have experienced the same emotions yourself or because you can relate on a deeper level.

For example, if your best friend tells you that they just broke up with their partner, and you have gone through a breakup in the past, you can empathize with your friend. You know what they are going through because you have been there. Empathy is all about understanding someone’s feelings and feeling them along with the other person.



Sympathy, on the other hand, refers to understanding someone’s feelings. When you sympathize with someone, you are acknowledging their feelings but not necessarily feeling them yourself. Sympathy is generally used in the context of sorrow or grief.

For example, imagine that your friend has lost a pet. If you have never had a pet or experienced this kind of loss, you may not be able to empathize with your friend. You don’t know what they’re going through. However, you can still acknowledge that the situation is sad and they are in pain. That is sympathy.

Another important distinction between empathy and sympathy is how they make the recipient feel. Because of the level of connection it requires, empathy can lead to a greater sense of understanding between two people. Sympathy, especially if it is not perceived as sincere, can cause alienation if the recipient does not feel supported.

The easiest way we’ve found to make the distinction is that sympathy is feeling FOR someone, while empathy is feeling WITH someone.

Empathy vs. sympathy: understanding the difference

Still confused?

Let’s look at a few example sentences to see how we might use empathy versus sympathy in writing:

I’ve never been in a relationship, but I certainly have sympathy for my friend who just broke up with his partner.

If you’ve never even been in a relationship, you’ve never been dumped, so you don’t really know what your friend is going through. However, you can acknowledge their sadness and sympathize.

After her father died, she had empathy for the main character of her favorite novel, who had also lost a parent at a young age.

Grieving a loved one can cause some serious confusion between empathy and sympathy. Someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one will empathize, understanding the immense pain and the grieving process, while someone who has not experienced loss might sympathize but not truly understand.

        They showed their sympathy by offering thoughts and prayers.

This is a potential example of insincere sympathy. Offering thoughts and prayers are generally well-intentioned, but it is often a superficial response to tragedy because those offering sympathy don’t understand what victims have gone through.

Empathy vs. sympathy in writing … are you conveying the right tone? If you need help getting your message across, ClearVoice has you covered. Our talented team of writers is ready and waiting to craft tailored, SEO-friendly, and grammatically correct content for your specific audience today. Talk to a content specialist to learn more.