Difference between Envy and Jealousy

Updated on February 24, 2018

You see someone you like holding hands with another person. What do you feel? There’s a high chance you’ll feel envious or jealous, and whichever of these two you might be feeling, it is undeniably one of the worst feelings we humans are vulnerable to. Knowing the difference between these terms may not help with how you feel, but it is a rather small victory for grammar when you can use them correctly.


An image portraying what can be a feeling of envy (umbrella) or jealousy (companion)

Envy – It is an emotion in which one person feels he/she wants what someone else has. It usually occurs when a person feels he/she lacks another’s possession, achievement, superior quality, or even wishes that the other person lacked any or all of the aforementioned. As stated by the famous British philosopher, logician, and writer, Bertrand Arthur William Russell,

‘Envy is also considered to be one of the most potent causes of unhappiness

Just as with most emotions, envy requires two parties. Take you and your neighbor for example. You see your neighbor riding in his/her brand new car with the top down. In relevance to the term ‘envy’, let us say that the car is your dream car and you wish it was you riding it. In that moment, that feeling you have, that feeling of longing, is called envy.

Here are a few instances to better describe envy

  1. I envy Ed Sheeran’s ability to sing. (Lacking the ability to sing makes me feel envious of Ed Sheeran’s ability to sing).
  2. I am really envious of your new guitar. (I wanted to have something like your guitar, but could not afford it).

Jealousy – It is an emotion where a person feels insecure, concerned, fearful, or anxious over an anticipated loss or status of something that is of great personal value. Jealousy usually pertains to a human connection, and often consists of a mixed combination of emotions such as anger, inadequacy, resentment, helplessness and disgust. In simpler terms, it is the fear or anxiety of losing one’s position or situation in relation to someone else, usually an intimate relationship.

Unlike other emotions, jealousy requires not ‘two’, but three parties. First is the person who feels jealousy, second is someone whom the first person holds dear, and third is the one who is closely connected to the second party. Let us say you and your girlfriend/boyfriend are out on a date, and suddenly his/her ex-girlfriend/ex-boyfriend shows up and they started talking and they are kind of enjoying it. Normally, you’d feel anger, resentment, and disgust. That mixture of emotions you’re feeling is called ‘jealousy’.

Here are a few instances to better describe jealousy

  1. Sam is jealous that his girlfriend is hanging out with Joe instead of him. (Sam wanted to hang out with his girlfriend but she instead went out with Joe; now Sam feels fearful and anxious that his girlfriend might leave him for Joe).
  2. I felt jealous when he danced with my wife. (I am angered by the guy who chose to dance with my wife because I wanted it to be me).

Envy vs Jealousy

What’s the difference between envy and jealousy?

When using the word envy, it should always pertain to things someone else has. Jealousy on the other hand would pertain to your possession of a person (usually a relationship). It’s actually that simple. You feel envious because you don’t possess what the other person has, but you don’t feel jealous because it does not belong to you. You feel jealous because someone else is dancing with your wife, but you don’t feel envious because he is not married to your wife. In special cases however, you may feel envious that that person is dancing with your wife, not because he is taking your place, but because he can dance better than you.

To simplify, envy is ‘wanting what someone else has’, while jealousy is ‘worrying that someone might take what you have’.

Comparison Chart

Longing for something someone else hasWorrying that someone might take what you have
Usually pertains to possessionUsually pertains to relationships
I envy anyone who can singI am jealous that you danced with him and not me
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