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. People treat these words synonyms constantly, 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 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.

In this sense, jealousy 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 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.

Envy is a covetousness of another’s advantages, possessions, or abilities. You are envious of the things that others have that you lack.

What’s the Difference?

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

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. That is to say, envy is when you want something someone else has and jealousy is when you’re afraid someone is going to take what you have.

Envy also need not always carry a negative connotation. Envy can be used to indicate a desire to equal another in achievement or excellence as in emulation. Emulation does not have any negative connotations to it.

Jealousy on the other hand always implies a feeling of resentment toward another.


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.