Are You Envious–or Jealous?

EnviousJealous? Do you use these words interchangeably? Or do you make a distinction between them? Test your understanding by filling in these blanks: 

  1. I am _______________ of my neighbors' gorgeous backyard. 
  2. Rob feels _______________ when he sees Carlos talking to their new supervisor so often, especially when both of them are laughing. 
  3. Natalie feels _______________ when she sees her friends' upbeat Facebook posts. 
  4. Some older workers are _______________ of retirees who appear to have a comfortable, carefree retirement. 
  5. David is _______________ that his parents seem to prefer his wife's company to his. 
  6. Our toddler is very _______________ of the new baby. 

 

Thinking about the woman standing in this photo, which word might apply? Envy or jealousy? 

 

Jealousy_envy

 

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:

  1. I am envious of my neighbors' gorgeous backyard. 
  2. Rob feels jealous when he sees Carlos talking to their new supervisor so often, especially when both of them are laughing. 
  3. Natalie feels envious when she sees her friends' upbeat Facebook posts. 
  4. Some older workers are envious of retirees who appear to have a comfortable, carefree retirement. 
  5. David is jealous that his parents seem to prefer his wife's company to his. 
  6. 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. 

I wrote this blog post because I needed to use the correct word in a post last month, and I had to check my style guides to be certain. Which word do you think I ended up using, envious or jealous?

If you have a sophisticated contact management system that helps you track your communications, I'm ___________. 

You might like a copy of my booklet 60 Quick Word FixesIt can help you choose the correct word in 60 confusing word pairs.

Lynn
Syntax Training

8 COMMENTS

  1. I have always thought when a person felt jealousy it was because he wanted what another person has.
    And if a person feels envious, it isn’t about coveting what some else has. It is about the person not wanting the other person to have it. Not because one wants it for himself.

  2. Sometimes the correct choice depends on context or on knowing the background.

    For example, in #2:

    Rob feels _______________ when he sees Carlos talking to their new supervisor so often, especially when both of them are laughing.

    If Rob feels no resentment towrds Carlos, but wishes he was more like Carlos, then “envious” could be the proper choice.

    Without knowing better what Rob is feeling inside, we can’t really know which word more accurately describes the situation.

  3. I have understood envy to be wanting what another has. While jealousy can also include this, I have interpreted it to also involve an aspect of feeling like what one has is threatened by what another has. That’s where the resentment comes in: an employee may feel that his good, but average, relationship with the boss is threatened by another’s apparently excellent relationship with the superior. Jealousy and envy, while distinct, are quite inter-related and most likely often travel in tandem.

  4. Hi Rae-Ann,

    I’ve checked two dictionaries–Webster’s and American Heritage–and neither one interprets envy the way you do. So as much as I’m intrigued by your interpretation, I’m afraid I can’t agree with it–yet. Perhaps I will find it in another dictionary.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Lynn

  5. I know very well the meaning of these two words (they’re basically the same with same meaning in Italian), so to answer your question, yes, I make a distinction between them. So I gave your exact same answers. In Italian, I noticed that people tend to use “jealous” for everything and it makes me nuts!

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