Definition of sympathy in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈsɪmpəθi/

noun (plural sympathies)

[mass noun]
1Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune: they had great sympathy for the flood victims
More example sentences
  • From this side of the water, one can have some sympathy with that frustration.
  • I have considerable sympathy with Mr S on this aspect of the case.
  • I have absolute sympathy with the friends and families of anyone that's suffered in anything like this.
1.1 (one's sympathies) The formal expression of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune: all Tony’s friends joined in sending their sympathies to his widow Jean
More example sentences
  • Our sympathies and condolences go to the victims of this incident and the people of London.
  • Our condolences and sympathies go to the families of the Hon John Falloon and Jack Luxton.
  • In this case, one's sympathies go out to the performers who have a living to earn.
2Understanding between people; common feeling: the special sympathy between the two boys was obvious to all
More example sentences
  • Understanding begins with sympathy - recognition of the shared human condition.
  • To receive, you must give, and not just in words and gestures but in true sympathy, understanding and commitment.
  • He feels that he is receiving less than his share and that there is no one on whom he can rely for sympathy and understanding.
2.1 (sympathies) Support in the form of shared feelings or opinions: his sympathies lay with his constituents
More example sentences
  • The Duke of Windsor - for years held up as a romantic figure who abdicated for love - shared those sympathies.
  • He also supports Glasgow Rangers, while he's also got Chelsea sympathies.
  • In both, secessionist sympathies are much wider than support for terrorism and have a much longer history.
agreement, harmony, favour, approval, approbation, support, encouragement, goodwill, commendation, partiality;
association, alignment, affiliation
2.2Agreement with or approval of an opinion or aim; a favourable attitude: I have some sympathy for this view
More example sentences
  • However, such a claim is unlikely to attract judicial sympathy for two reasons.
  • Keegan deserves a moment of sympathy for his honest comments, but not much more than a moment.
  • An opinion poll last week showed there is widespread sympathy for the strikes.
2.3 (in sympathy) Relating harmoniously to something else; in keeping: repairs had to be in sympathy with the original structure
More example sentences
  • I long to live in a culture with which I feel in harmony and in sympathy.
  • GMO products should exist in sympathy with the world's food chain.
  • To begin with, it must be a quality scheme, with any new buildings being in sympathy with the area and with the Cathedral Close's distinct character.
3The state or fact of responding in a way similar or corresponding to an action elsewhere: the magnetic field oscillates in sympathy
More example sentences
  • The inner ear has small hairs rooted in fluid and when tympanic responses from sound goes through three small bones the hairs vibrate, or oscillate in sympathy.
  • Very few bells to be found on these rare instruments even if there are many strings vibrating in sympathy.
  • And foreign creditors are getting a double whammy, as bond prices have begun to fall in sympathy with the dollar.


On the difference between sympathy and empathy, see empathy (usage).


Late 16th century (in sense 3): via Latin from Greek sumpatheia, from sumpathēs, from sun- 'with' + pathos 'feeling'.

  • This was first used to express ‘understanding between people’; it came via Latin from Greek sumpathēs (from sun- ‘with’ and pathos ‘feeling’). The word sympathize is from the same period in the sense ‘suffer with another person’. In the mid 17th century the adjective sympathetic (on the pattern of pathetic) joined this group of related words and meant ‘relating to a paranormal influence’; the phrase sympathetic magic illustrates its use in the context of magical ritual involving objects associated with an event.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: sym|pathy

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