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A twentieth-century borrowing from Ancient Greek ἐμπάθεια (empátheia, literally passion) (formed from ἐν (en, in, at) + πάθος (páthos, feeling)), coined by Edward Bradford Titchener in 1909 to translate German Einfühlung. The modern word in Greek εμπάθεια (empátheia) has an opposite meaning denoting strong negative feelings and prejudice against someone.


  • IPA(key): /ˈɛmpəθi/
  • (file)


empathy (countable and uncountable, plural empathies)

  1. Identification with or understanding of the thoughts, feelings, or emotional state of another person.
    Synonym: fellow feeling
    She had a lot of empathy for her neighbor; she knew what it was like to lose a parent too.
    • 2022 January 28, Em Beihold, Nick Lopez, Dru DeCaro, “Numb Little Bug”, in Egg in the Backseat[1], performed by Em Beihold:
      Like your body's in the room but you're not really there / Like you have empathy inside but you don't really care / Like you're fresh outta love but it's been in the air / Am I past repair?
  2. The capacity to understand another person's point of view or the result of such understanding.
  3. (parapsychology, science fiction) A paranormal ability to psychically read another person's emotions.
  4. (obsolete slang) MDMA.
    Synonym: ecstasy

Usage notes[edit]

Used similarly to sympathy, interchangeably in looser usage. In stricter usage, empathy is stronger and more intimate, meaning that the subject understands and shares an emotion with the object—as in “I feel your pain”—while sympathy is weaker and more distant—concern, but not shared emotion: “I care for you” or "I feel sorry for you."

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