Jealousy vs envy?

Jealousy is a noun that conveys a resentful vigilance toward protecting one’s desires. Envy is a noun or verb that describes the resentful longing of advantages possessed by another.

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What is the difference between jealousy vs envy?

Jealousy and envy are negative emotions that people feel in response to desire, power, and a lack of self-confidence. But when it comes to describing our feelings on paper, how do we know which terms to use? 

The definitions of jealousy and envy are nearly the same. Both terms describe a state of awareness regarding the advantages of another, whether it’s someone’s good looks, popularity, or their new car. Whoever feels jealous or envious has a desire to attain said advantages, and these negative feelings are commonly associated with insecurity, longing, and resentment. 

Although envy and jealousy are often synonymous, the two terms are distinguishable and intended for specific circumstances. The primary difference between jealousy and envy involves the dichotomy of ‘to have’ and ‘to have not.’ 

Jealousy is to have and to fear the loss of…

The experience of jealousy occurs when a desirable possession is threatened. Someone who feels jealousy is afraid of losing their possession or success to another. Classic examples involve “the jealous partner,” a trope assigned to someone who feels anger toward their partner’s friends, colleagues, or suspected lovers. 

The jealous partner already possesses the relationship, but they are jealous of the attention their partner provides or receives outside of the relationship. They may also compare or covet the traits of a suspected lover, desiring the qualities and assets of said person. 

Someone that experiences jealousy may become paranoid, possessive, or increasingly competitive. All of which are all associated with low self-esteem and the need to feel in control. 

The experience of “the jealous partner” also applies to people with power or fame. For example, someone with a top-paying position may feel jealousy toward their subordinates in fear of being replaced. An attractive model might feel jealous of emerging muses within the fashion industry. The caveat is that whoever feels jealousy has something to lose

Envy is to desire and pursue the have nots’

Envy transpires out of the desire of someone else’s possession–– it’s the lack of a desired person, place, or thing. Someone that feels envy might see their co-worker earn a raise before them. A person might be envious of another person’s popularity, clothes, physical traits, etc. 

No matter what somebody envious of, the source of envy always comes from the fact that someone else has what they want. And the lack of something doesn’t stop with desire. Like jealousy, a person that feels envy often harbors resentment or malicious intent toward their perceived rivals. 

If we look at the example of the “jealous partner,” once again, we might extend the experience of envy toward the suspected lover. The person outside of the relationship may desire the traits or possessions of the jealous partner (the relationship). The envious lover may even intentionally sabotage the jealous partner to possess the relationship for themselves. 

Again, the critical trait of envy isn’t about maintaining an advantage–– it’s about fulfilling the lack of an advantage that one desires. 

What is the definition of jealousy?

The word jealousy or jealousies is a noun that describes an acute awareness of other people’s perceived or real success, privilege, or material possessions. One who experiences jealousy also desires to possess advantages for themself, but in a paranoid, possessive, and defensive manner. 

By itself, the adjective jealous describes attitudes or conduct toward other people. Therefore, we can define the state of jealousy as: 

1. Hostile conduct toward a competitor or rival that appears to have an advantage. For example, 

“The jealousy surrounding the business owner’s success stirred unrest among industry leaders.”
“Healthy relationships cannot withstand continuous jealousy.” 

2. Intolerance of a competitor or suspicion of unfaithfulness. For example,

“The husband’s jealousy toward his ex’s new partner drove him to insanity.” 

3. Vigilance toward protecting a possession. For example,

“American’s guard their sense of independence with piercing jealousy at all costs.”

Synonyms

Animosity, covetousness, desire, enmity, enviousness, envy, hatred, ill will, invidiousness, malice, possessive, resentment, spitefulness, watchfulness.

Antonyms

Benevolence, goodwill, kindness, sympathy. 

What is the definition of envy?

Unlike jealousy, the word envy is a noun and a verb. As a noun, we use the word envy or envies to convey: 

1. A spiteful attitude and longing toward another person’s success, luck, possessions, or traits with the desire to attain such advantages for themselves. For example,

“When classmates scored higher on tests, Miranda fell into fits of envy and dismay.” 
“Justin felt envy toward Miranda’s unrequited affection.”

2. The person or thing that is envied by others. For example,

“Cinderella’s new dress was the envy of all at the ball.” 

Noun Synonyms

Animosity, covetousness, desire, enmity, hatred, invidiousness, jealousy, maliciousness, resentment, spitefulness.

Noun Antonyms

Benevolence, contentment, goodwill, kindness, sympathy.

Envy as a verb

As a verb, the word envy (also as envied or envying) is the reaction of feeling resentment and longing toward a person or an event. For example, 

“Ashley envied her sister’s doll collection.” 
“The children envy the older student’s ability to leave campus.” 

Verb Synonyms

Begrudge, covet, crave, desire, hanker, hunger, resent, yearn.

A brief history of envy vs jealousy

Jealousy and envy have existed in the English Language since the 13th century, but the concept of these words have been around much longer. Originally written in Latin, Hebrew, or Italian, the two terms are frequent throughout early religious doctrine and literature, such as The Holy Bible and The Inferno by Dante Alighieri.

Examples of jealousy or envy within religious literature include:

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” –– Mark 7:12-23

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” –– James 3:16

“He will drive her from every town until he has put her back in Hell, whence envy first sent her forth.” – Inferno, Canto 1.109

“Two are just, and no one heeds them; pride, envy, and greed are the three sparks that have set hearts ablaze.” – Inferno, Canto 6.109

The Seven Deadly Sins

Envy is also included within the “eight patterns of evil thought,” a philosophy held by 4th-century monk Evagrius Ponticus. Today, many people refer to Ponticus’s theory as the Seven Deadly Sins, which are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.  

The Green-eyed Monster is “green with envy”

Another classic example of jealousy and envy within classic literature involves figurative language involving the color green and the “green-eyed monster.” The green-eyed monster personifies jealousy and envy as a monster that attacks other people. 

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the first use of “the green-eyed monster” occurred around 1616. However, there is evidence that suggests the metaphor was coined by William Shakespeare, who famously used the metaphor within his 1596 play The Merchant of Venice:

How all the other passions fleet to air,
As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! …

Shakespeare went on to include the green-eyed monster in the 1604 play Othello

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss…

Literary sources suspect that the color green is connected to sickness, thus likening jealousy or envy to an illness of the mind. Similarly, the expression “green with envy” is an idiom that figuratively describes the state of profound unhappiness in response to another’s desired trait, possession, or achievement. 

Etymology of jealousy and envy

The adjective jealous is a Middle English term that stems from Anglo-French gelus, Vulgar Latin zelosus, and Latin Latin zelus. The Late Latin zelus means ‘zeal,’ which comes from the Greek term zēlos for zeal.

The verb form of envy appeared in the English Language via Middle English from Old French. The French noun envie and verb envier stem from Latin invidia and invidere, which means “to regard maliciously,” or “to grudge.” 

How to use jealousy vs envy in a sentence?

Envy and jealousy are easily confused words because they essentially mean the same thing. Both terms involve an emotional rivalry of sorts: hatred, malice, greed, longing. But to write jealousy or envy in a sentence correctly, we must remember:

  • Jealousy infers possessiveness and potential loss of something desired.
  • Envy conveys a hunger or thirst for possessing something that one doesn’t have. 

Let’s take a look at a few example sentences to determine whether envy or jealousy is more appropriate to use: 

Example 1: “The culture of social media can envelop users in ___________ (jealousy/envy) over popularity, material goods, and the belief that many have something you cannot have.” 

The correct word to use for Example 1 is envy. If people watch social media influencers flaunt an unattainable lifestyle, they will feel envy because they long to attain that perception for themselves. 

Example 2: “___________ (jealousy/envy) is common amongst reporters who frequently tweet their published articles.” 

The correct answer for Example 2 is jealousy because the reporters all have the same job or opportunity to write. The key is that the reporters feel jealous because they are worried that their colleagues are more successful than they are.

Example 3: “In a fit of ___________ (jealousy/envy), Maria used Google images to stalk her best friend. She was ___________ (jealous/envious) because her friend took a trip to New York with Maria’s fiancé.” 

The answers to Example 3 are tricky because we have to decide how jealousy and envy are explicitly different. For the first sentence, the correct answer is envy because Maria’s best friend has something she doesn’t have (e.g., experience, information, opportunity, etc.). For the second sentence, the adjective jealous is correct because the best friend has the company of Maria’s fiancé

Test Yourself!

Are you a jealous person or somebody that’s envious of others? See if you can tell the difference between the words jealousy and envy with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. The word jealous means ______________.
    a. An attitude or feeling of resentment and desire toward other people’s advantages.
    b. The feeling of vigilance toward one’s possessions or rights. 
    c. An attitude or feeling of resentment and longing for something one doesn’t possess. 
    d. A and C
  2. Which word is least relevant to envy? 
    a. Longing
    b. Desire
    c. Protective
    d. Hunger
  3. Which word is least relevant to jealousy? 
    a. Vigilance
    b. Protective
    c. Pride
    d. Trust
  4. The word jealousy is a __________. 
    a. Verb
    b. Noun
    c. Adjective
    d. B and C
  5. The word envy is a ____________.
    a. Verb
    b. Noun
    c. Adjective
    d. A and B

Answers

  1. A
  2. C
  3. D
  4. B
  5. D

Sources

  1. Alighieri, D (1320). “The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: The Inferno.” Ed. Robert M. Durling, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 33-105. 
  2. Be green with envy.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  3. Envy.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  4. Envy.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  5. Evagrius Ponticus.” World Heritage Encyclopedia, Project Gutenberg, n.d. 
  6. Green-eyed monster.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  7. Jealous.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  8. Shakespeare, W (1596). “The Merchant of Venice.” The Tech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. 
  9. Shakespeare, W (1604). “Othello, the Moore of Venice.” The Tech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. Smith, S (ed). “Jealousy and Envy.” The Holy Bible, OpenBible.info, 31 May 2020.