Envious? Jealous? Do you use these words interchangeably? Or do you make a distinction between them? Test your understanding by filling in these blanks:
- I am _______________ of my neighbors’ gorgeous backyard.
- Rob feels _______________ when he sees Carlos talking to their new supervisor so often, especially when both of them are laughing.
- Natalie feels _______________ when she sees her friends’ upbeat Facebook posts.
- Some older workers are _______________ of retirees who appear to have a comfortable, carefree retirement.
- David is _______________ that his parents seem to prefer his wife’s company to his.
- Our toddler is very _______________ of the new baby.
Thinking about the woman standing in this photo, which word might apply? Envy or jealousy?
Careful writers distinguish between the words jealous and envious, jealousy and envy. The Chicago Manual of Style describes the differences this way:
Jealousy connotes feelings of resentment toward another, particularly in matters relating to an intimate relationship (sexual jealousy). Envy refers to coveting another’s advantages, possessions, or abilities [example]: his transparent envy of others’ successes.
According to Garner’s Modern English Usage:
Jealousy is properly restricted to contexts involving emotional rivalry, especially regarding the sex instinct; envy is used more broadly of resentful contemplation of a more fortunate person.
Given those definitions, will you change your mind about any of the fill-ins above?
Here are my responses:
- I am envious of my neighbors’ gorgeous backyard.
- Rob feels jealous when he sees Carlos talking to their new supervisor so often, especially when both of them are laughing.
- Natalie feels envious when she sees her friends’ upbeat Facebook posts.
- Some older workers are envious of retirees who appear to have a comfortable, carefree retirement.
- David is jealous that his parents seem to prefer his wife’s company to his.
- Our toddler is very jealous of the new baby.
Although Items 2, 5, and 6 do not involve sexual relationships, they all involve relationships or possible rivalries. That’s why I chose jealous. Do you agree?
The word you choose for the photograph above depends on what you read into it. The woman with one rose may be envious that the seated woman received a bouquet. Or she may be jealous that the seated woman received flowers from that man. Or she may simply be thinking about where she might find a bud vase in the office.
Your dictionary may offer envious as a synonym for jealous, but it’s a good idea to use the words in distinct ways, especially if you are writing for a sophisticated audience.