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Pity vs. Sympathy: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 24, 2023
Pity involves feeling sorrow for someone's misfortunes, while sympathy is understanding and sharing another's emotions or feelings.

Key Differences

Pity often carries a sense of sadness or distress directed towards the misfortunes or sufferings of someone. When one feels pity, they might perceive the other as inferior or unfortunate. Sympathy, however, leans more towards a compassionate understanding and shared feeling with another person's emotions, without necessarily viewing them as inferior.
A person might pity another because they see them in a difficult situation, and they feel thankful that they are not in that position themselves. In contrast, sympathy does not involve a comparison of positions or status. When expressing sympathy, one genuinely feels and understands the emotions of the other person.
Pity can sometimes be seen as condescending, suggesting that the one showing pity feels superior in some way. On the other hand, sympathy is about mutual understanding and emotional connection, emphasizing a shared human experience.
While both pity and sympathy stem from an individual's emotional response towards another person's situation, pity tends to be more passive, a mere recognition of someone's misfortune. Sympathy is more active and engaged, as it requires understanding and sharing in the feelings of another.
In interpersonal relationships, displaying sympathy rather than pity can often be more comforting. Sympathy implies empathy and shared feelings, whereas pity can inadvertently create emotional distance between the involved parties.

Comparison Chart


Feeling of sorrow for someone's misfortune.
Understanding and sharing another's feelings


May perceive the other as inferior.
Sees the other as an equal.


Can be passive or condescending.
Actively engaged and compassionate.


On the situation or suffering.
On the emotions or feelings.

Impact on Relationships

Can create emotional distance.
Fosters mutual understanding and connection.

Pity and Sympathy Definitions


A feeling of sorrow for the sufferings of another.
She felt pity for the homeless man on the street.


A feeling of understanding and care for someone's suffering or problems.
He expressed sympathy for the victims of the accident.


A regrettable or unfortunate situation.
It's a pity she missed the party; it was a lot of fun.


The act of showing support for or approval of something.
She had no sympathy for their cause.


A strong feeling of sadness about a particular problem or situation.
He took pity on the lost kitten and gave it a home.


A natural connection between people or things.
He has a natural sympathy for animals.


Compassion prompted by the suffering of others.
The orphan's story moved him to pity.


A mutual understanding or rapport.
They had a lot in common and felt a deep sympathy for each other.


To feel sorry for someone because of their situation.
I pity those who have never known love.


Harmony of or agreement in feeling.
Her feelings were in sympathy with his.


Sympathy and sorrow aroused by the misfortune or suffering of another.


A feeling of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; commiseration.


How does pity differ from sympathy?

Pity involves feeling sorrow for someone's misfortune, while sympathy is understanding and sharing another's feelings.

Can showing pity distance relationships?

Pity can inadvertently create emotional distance, making someone feel pitied rather than understood.

Is sympathy always positive?

Generally, yes. Sympathy fosters mutual understanding and connection.

Can you feel both pity and sympathy for someone?

Yes, it's possible to feel sorrow for someone's situation (pity) and also understand their feelings (sympathy).

Can animals display sympathy?

Many believe certain animals can show forms of empathy and sympathy towards others.

Are there phrases to avoid when expressing sympathy?

Phrases like "at least" can minimize someone's feelings and are best avoided when expressing sympathy.

Is sympathy a more active emotion?

Yes, sympathy often involves a deeper engagement and understanding of another's feelings.

How do cultural differences impact expressions of pity and sympathy?

Cultural norms can shape how emotions are expressed, so expressions of pity and sympathy might vary across cultures.

Can pity be seen as condescending?

Yes, pity can sometimes come across as condescending or viewing the other as inferior.

Which is more comforting: pity or sympathy?

Most people find sympathy more comforting as it implies understanding and shared feelings.

Are there cultural expressions of pity and sympathy?

Yes, different cultures have unique ways and rituals to express both pity and sympathy.

Is empathy the same as sympathy?

No, while both involve understanding others' feelings, empathy is actually feeling what the other person feels.

Why is it considered better to show sympathy over pity?

Sympathy fosters mutual understanding and emotional connection, whereas pity can create a sense of distance.

How can one shift from pity to sympathy?

Focusing on understanding and sharing feelings rather than just recognizing misfortune can help shift from pity to sympathy.

Is it possible for sympathy to be overwhelming?

Yes, intense sympathy can lead to feelings of sadness or distress if not balanced.

How can one best show sympathy?

Active listening, genuine concern, and empathy are effective ways to show sympathy.

Is pity always negative?

Not always, but it can be perceived negatively if it feels condescending or superior.

Can someone feel pity for themselves?

Yes, someone can feel self-pity, which is sorrow for one's own sufferings.

Can pity motivate charitable actions?

Yes, seeing others' misfortunes can prompt feelings of pity, leading to charitable actions or donations.

Can you show sympathy without genuinely feeling it?

While it's possible to feign sympathy, genuine sympathy involves truly understanding and sharing in someone's feelings.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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