"to be jealous" Vs. "to envy" - what is the difference?



What is the difference between "to be jealous" and "to envy"? I always used both interchangeably but I was told that actually there is a difference between these two.

I opened the dictionary ("jealous" and "envy") and checked the definitions which each one of them looks correct also for the second word, and I still don't understand what is the difference between them in practical use.

Judicious Allure

Posted 2018-02-26T10:31:23.977

Reputation: 24 598

6Good question. I hope the answers won't concentrate too much on jealous being an adverb and envy being a noun though. – Mr Lister – 2018-02-26T12:17:13.393

4Simpsons did it first. (No really, it is explained quite well, and you'll be most likely to remember after seeing this gag!) – AvgJoe54 – 2018-02-26T15:41:02.153

2"jealous" is an adjective (you are jealous, you don't jealous), where as "envy" is a verb (you envy, you are not envy). If you want to compare apples to apples, you should compare "jealous" to "envious" (both adjectives) – Alexander - Reinstate Monica – 2018-02-26T17:41:06.000

@Alexander fully agree, It's I am envious/jealous not I am envy or I jealous – Mari-Lou A – 2018-02-27T10:17:32.793



The following in an extract from an interesting piece by M-W about the difference in usage and meaning between jealous and envious in which they state that despite the two terms tend to overlap in usage, there is a difference in the meaning they carry, as explained below:

Some people have a view in this matter that is similar to that expressed by the noted lexicographic scholar, Homer Simpson: “I’m not jealous! I’m envious. Jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have ... envy is wanting what someone else has.” Others, however, do not make this distinction, or differentiate between these two words in another fashion. Let’s look at some of the ways that jealous and envious overlap.


So while jealous may be used to mean both “covetous” and “possessively suspicious”, envious is only in the first of those two senses. Which of course raises the following question: given that jealous has more meanings than envious, does the word envious feel envious or jealous (or both) of its synonym’s greater semantic breadth?


Posted 2018-02-26T10:31:23.977

Reputation: 6 473

2I'd also just add that I've heard sarcastic *Jealous much?* quite often over recent years, but I've never heard *Envious much?* – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2018-02-26T13:07:34.337


Sounds right. The wikitionary definition seems to agree with your second source, where jealousy can include envy but not the other way around. I think this is the interpretation most consistent with usage.

– Nathan Cooper – 2018-02-26T14:59:48.000

3That first highlighted definition looks odd to me. I really don't think jealousy is worrying that someone will take what you have. We say: X is jealous of Y. Jealousy involves wanting to be the other person; envy is wanting to have what the other person has. – Lambie – 2018-02-26T15:22:39.700

I think it's also worth noting that jealousy tends to carry a negative connotation as opposed to envy which comes in a positive context. So while you can use jealousy to mean envy, if you're going for a positive tone you would choose the latter. – aaaaaa – 2018-02-26T17:04:46.870

5@Lambie consider the phrase "my spouse is very jealous." This means the spouse is very afraid someone will steal their partner. The spouse isn't envious at all, and nobody would ever say "my spouse is very envious" to express the same idea. That's the only scenario I can think of where "jealous" is used that way, though. – Kat – 2018-02-26T19:43:51.833

@Kat2 It's complicated but let's say jealousy involves a three-way relationship of some kind and envy does not, envy is two-way. :) – Lambie – 2018-02-26T19:48:19.337

@Lambie no this answer is perfectly correct. the term jealousy has drifted over time to overlap envy. It doesn't mean to want to be someone although I can see how you it could be confused that way. – JimmyJames – 2018-02-26T22:29:02.460

@Kat Somewhere in the King James version of the Old Testament there's something about the God of Abraham being a jealous God IIRC. – JimmyJames – 2018-02-26T22:30:49.040

And to elaborate on Mr. Simpson's explanation, envy doesn't usually mean wanting exactly what someone else has, but something like what they have. So for instance in a relationship context, I can be envious of my friend having found a really nice significant other, and wish that I could find someone like that for myself, without going to the extent of jealously trying to take the SO for myself. – jamesqf – 2018-02-26T22:32:38.417

2@Kat Also "a jealously guarded secret" – JimmyJames – 2018-02-26T22:37:53.003

"You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God" More

– JimmyJames – 2018-02-26T22:40:07.097

@Lambie I guess that statement is true, but the definition in the answer is certainly more precise. – Kat – 2018-02-27T00:13:08.563

@JimmyJames good examples. Hopefully they get added to the answer. I think some people will struggle to believe the definition without examples. – Kat – 2018-02-27T00:14:49.073

@Kat15 You envy a person. Two-way. You are jealous of a person: you don't want anyone else to have the access you have. In other words, you might even want to be that person. Jealousy is much worse than envy. And it's always three-way, at least. I don't think the definition makes that distinction. That distinction comes from psychoanalysis... – Lambie – 2018-02-27T00:30:28.563


I have always interpreted jealousy to be more bitter than envy, and also describe a more negative attitude or behaviour. While envy would imply a more innocent wish to have something that someone else has, jealousy would imply an active feeling of bitterness or even malice.

Just my opinion.


Posted 2018-02-26T10:31:23.977

Reputation: 149

1This is probably a corrolary of the distinction @user5768790 makes. Worry about losing something is usually a stronger emotion than desiring something we don't have. – Barmar – 2018-02-26T18:52:41.840

Yeah, envy is more directed towards the thing, while jealousy is more towards the person who has the thing. – Acccumulation – 2018-02-26T23:38:34.483


When used to describe the desire for what someone has, jealous often suggests a stronger emotional intensity than envious. Envious is often used to describe an awareness that what someone else has is desirable. The picture quality of a superior television may be enviable, but it doesn't suggest that someone would be emotionally distraught over not having it. Jealousy has a connotation of frustration bordering on anger.

Scott Hannen

Posted 2018-02-26T10:31:23.977

Reputation: 169

1This is the closest to my definition - Jealousy is wanting what someone has and them not having it any more, while Envy is wanting it as well as them. – Rycochet – 2018-02-27T09:22:40.423

absolutely my understanding also. I also think people say jealous when they mean envious. – bigbadmouse – 2018-02-27T13:10:35.610


To be envious is to wish you had something that someone else has. This includes having their whole situation. You can envy someone for their job, their lifestyle, whatever.

"Jealous" is definitely sometimes used with that exact same meaning. You might hear an exchange like:

Person A: "I've got tickets to Hamilton next week."

Person B: "Ooh - I'm jealous!"

In my experience, children know and use the word "jealous" in this way, and don't use "envious." "Envious" is a word you tend to learn as you get older.

However, "jealous" has a larger range of meanings, often fitting in the broad category of wanting to guard what is your own. Very commonly, it refers to being excessively possessive of your partner in a relationship. But you can also find such expressions as "a jealously guarded secret."

Mark Foskey

Posted 2018-02-26T10:31:23.977

Reputation: 1 745

i think people often use jealous when what they mean is envious as in your example. I think of someone who is actively jealous as having an implied willingness to take or steal to take possession of <whatever> whereas envy is more a wish that I also had a <whatever> – bigbadmouse – 2018-02-27T13:09:18.427