Jealousy vs. Envy: What’s the Difference?

There are many words in English that have very similar definitions–so similar that it’s difficult to tell some of these words apart at times. Jealousy and envy are two such words. Oftentimes, people treat these words as synonyms, but do they have the same meanings? If you look at the words closely, there is a slight difference between them.

In this post, I want to go over the definitions of these two words, what makes them different, and how you can tell them apart from each other in the future.

When to Use Jealousy

JealousJealousy definition: Jealousy is defined as “fearful or wary of losing one’s position or situation to someone else, especially in an intimate relationship.”

For example,

  • He was jealous of her male friends.
  • She was jealous that her husband’s office was mainly women.
  • I am jealous that you like hanging out with her instead of me.

Jealousy, nicknamed the green eyed monster by Shakespeare, involves wanting to hold on to what you do have, particularly a relationship. It connotes a feeling of resentment toward the person “advancing” and generally describes a sort of emotional rivalry between people.

When to Use Envy

Envy definition: Envy is defined as “the feeling of wanting what someone else has.”

For example,

  • I envy your ability to sing.
  • I envy your bright blue eyes.
  • Their rich natural resources are the envy of the entire world.

Being one of the seven deadly sins, envy is a covetousness of another’s advantages, possessions, or abilities. Someone who is envious is resentful of those more fortunate than himself and of the things that these people have.

What’s the Difference?

While many dictionaries have incorporated overlapping definitions of these two words, in best usage, their meanings are distinct.

What does jealously mean? Jealousy, as outlined above, has to do with holding on to what you have because you are afraid that someone else is going to take it away, while envy has to do with wanting what someone else has.

If you have a boyfriend who has many close female friends, you might be jealous of those other women,  fearing that they have a special relationship with your boyfriend that you wish you had. This is an example of jealousy.

A comparable example of envy would be to envy someone else’s boyfriend. Maybe he is smart, attractive, a good listener, etc. You wish he were your boyfriend.

What does envy mean? In other words, envy is when you want something someone else has, and jealousy is when you’re afraid someone is going to take what you have.

That said, neither word has a positive connotation, as they both are based on discontentment, resentment, and bitterness toward other parties.

  • In the case of jealousy, you are resentful toward the person who is “advancing” into your relationship.
  • In the case of envy, you are resentful toward those who are more fortunate than you.

Summary

Is it jealousy or envy? If you want to keep your writing precise in its meaning, I would advise making the distinction between these two meanings. Making your writing more precise is never a bad thing.

In fact, it almost always helps your writing by providing it with more clarity and enriching the meaning and depth of your work.

Most people today, however, blur the meanings of these two words together both in casual usage and even in newspapers or magazines, so you shouldn’t be surprised when you see them used interchangeably.

If you found this post useful, please check out some of my other posts on commonly confused words.