Jealousy and Envy

last updated: 14 February 2017 (approximate reading time: 2 minutes; 285 words)

Aren’t they just the same thing?

That’s what someone asked me a few days ago. In short, no, they’re not the same. The two concepts—the two underlying emotions—are very different notions.


The simpler concept is envy.

If one person A has something that person B covets, then person B feels envy. The emotion of person B wanting what person A has, is envy.

And that something may be tangible, for instance money, or a more subjective notion such as looks, talent, or a relationship.


Jealousy is a different concept and it relates to the fear of losing.

So for instance, a child may jealously guard a toy. A business may jealously protect its reputation.

In short, there’s a third party in the mix, and that third party’s presence creates the feeling of jealousy. So in the case of the child jealously guarding its toy, the first person is the child, the second party is the toy, and the feelings of jealousy arise when a third party—maybe another child, maybe an adult—put that child’s control of the toy at risk.

A boy may be jealous of his girlfriend when that girlfriend is receiving attention from another male—especially if the boy is envious of that other male. In this instance, you can have envy and jealousy at the same time, but differing feelings are directed toward different subjects (envy to the other boy, jealousy to the girl).

Now, of course, language is an ever changing thing, and words shift in meaning and different situations give rise to varying emotions and conflicts requiring different descriptions and different shading. But I’m a simple person and most of the time when people say “jealousy”, they really mean envy.

Filed under

Category: writing
Tags: jealousy   envy