Empathy Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Wondering what the meaning of empathy is? We can help. Read on as we explore what empathy means, how to use it, and more.

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More often than not, we hear about the need for more empathy in the world. However, what exactly does empathy mean? Learn the meaning of empathy and where it comes from today with The Word Counter!

What Does Empathy Mean?

According to the scientists from the Greater Good Science Center — which studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-bein —  empathy is an essential building block of morality. 

For people to follow the Golden Rule, it helps to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. In other words, empathy is the capacity to identify with or understand another’s situation or feelings. 

What Is the Origin of Empathy? 

Derived from the Ancient Greek ἐμπάθεια (meaning “physical affection or passion”), the English word empathy came into existence a century ago as a translation for the German Einfühlung, literally meaning “feeling-in.” 

While a group of English-speaking psychologists did suggest a few other catchy translations for the term, such as “animation,” “play,” “aesthetic sympathy,” and “semblance,” two psychologists from Cornell and the University of Cambridge proposed “empathy,” drawing on the Greek “em” for “in” and “pathos” for “feeling.” Needless to say, it stuck.

That said, the early meaning behind empathy wasn’t primarily a means to feel another individual’s emotions, but the very opposite — in the early 1900s, to have empathy was to enliven an object or to project one’s imagined feelings onto the world. 

The definition of empathy began to shift by mid-century as some psychologists focused on the science of social relations. From there, “true” empathy was defined as the accurate appraisal of another’s thoughts or feelings from “projection.” 

Eventually, in 1955, empathy was defined by Reader’s Digest as the “ability to appreciate the other person’s feelings without yourself becoming so emotionally involved that your judgment is affected.”

Although we can use it to describe a wide range of experiences, empathy today is generally defined as the ability to sense another individual’s emotions, coupled with the capacity to imagine what someone might be feeling or thinking.

What Are the Synonyms and Antonyms of Empathy?

To strengthen your understanding of the term empathy, it can be helpful to learn its synonyms. Put simply, synonyms are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning as another in the same language. The synonyms of empathy are as follows:

  • Affinity
  • Appreciation 
  • Compassion
  • Insight
  • Rapport
  • Pity
  • Warmth
  • Sympathy
  • Commiseration
  • Emotional contagion 

It can also be useful to learn the antonyms, which refer to words opposite in meaning to another. The antonyms of empathy include:  

  • Indifference
  • Disdain
  • Mercilessness
  • Discord
  • Apathy
  • Disagreement
  • Unfeelingness
  • Misunderstanding

Examples of Empathy in a Sentence

We know the definition of empathy is to understand and share another’s feelings, but how is the term used in a sentence? Below we’ve listed out a few example sentences:

“He struggles to form healthy relationships because he lacks empathy for others.”

“I am glad that you’re empathetic and can see from another’s point of view.”

“A lack of empathy is often a sign of a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).”

“The nurse has a lot of empathy for her patients.”

“It’s important to be empathetic in the workplace.”

“Suzie felt great empathy for them, despite being strangers.”

“Did you know that empathy can also mean projecting our feelings onto a work of art?”

“I can empathize with your passion for the arts, as I have a background in music theory.”

“If you’re trying to be more empathetic, learning how to reach body language is a good start.”

What Are the Different Types of Empathy?

Did you know that there is more than one kind of empathy? Yup, it’s true — defined by psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman, the concept of empathy can be broken down into the following three categories:

  1. Cognitive empathy, also known as perspective-taking, is being able to put yourself into someone else’s place and see their perspective. This type of empathy makes us better communicators because it helps us deliver information in a way that best reaches the other person. 
  2. Emotional empathy, also known as affective empathy, is when you feel along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious. This type of empathy helps you build and strengthen emotional bonds with others. 
  3. Compassionate empathy, also known as empathic concern, goes much further than simply understanding others and sharing their feelings — it actually moves us to take action if needed.

Is Empathy Interchangeable With Sympathy?

No, empathy is not interchangeable with sympathy as the two terms have different meanings. 

In short, sympathy is when you understand the feelings of another, whereas empathy is when you experience the feelings of another but don’t necessarily share them. That being said, the nouns do share a common root: the Greek noun pathos, which means “feelings, emotion, or passion.” 

To Recap

So, what does empathy mean, you ask?

Simply put, empathy is the innate ability to recognize, understand, and share the feelings and thoughts of another person, fictional character, or animal. Learning to be empathetic is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately. 

Empathy involves experiencing another person’s point of view rather than just one’s own, and it enables genuine behaviors that come from within. 


  1. Freud and the history of empathy | Pub Med
  2. Empathy Definition | What Is Empathy | The Greater Good Berkeley
  3. Paul Ekman | The Roots of Empathy and Compassion