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I'm having doubts regarding the usage of "commiserate." One meaning is that people who commiserate have the same negative feelings about something. Is the usage okay in the following sentence, where one person is sharing his problems with another, or is it necessary for both persons to be involved in the same situation?

Sam commiserated with his best friend, Jim, about how his parents had mistreated him.

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As others suggest, "commiserating" implies a shared conversation, but it also implies sympathy and that there has been a misfortune or problem.

One subtlety is that the subject of the verb commiserate is usually not the person having the problem. In your example: "Sam commiserated with his best friend, Jim, about how his parents had mistreated him." I would read this as Jim was mistreated and shared the story with Sam. Then Sam commiserated with Jim, offering his (Sam's) sympathy and support (to Jim, who needs it).

Commiserate could also be used if both people had a similar problem: "Sam and Jim commiserated about their mistreatment by their parents."

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So if I want to convey that Sam shared his problem with Jim, can I express that by writing Sam commiserated with Jim about his problem?

No. You have that in reverse

If Sam commiserates with Jim, it is because Jim has a problem that he wants to share.

Jim shares his problem with Sam. Sam listens to Jim and commiserates with Jim.

"Sam commiserates with Jim" == "Sam takes a part of Jim's misery onto himself."


If you share with someone, you share your problems with them by telling them the story.

If you commiserate with someone, you listen and take a share of their feelings by showing sadness.

The verb "to share" can work in both directions.

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To commiserate is to show sympathy or pity, to share in the other person's misfortune. You don't have to have the same problem. Often it's used when you have some similar experience in the past, like, "Yes, my wife left me ten years ago, I can commiserate with your problem". But not necessarily.

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  • So if I want to convey that Sam shared his problem with Jim, can I express that by writing Sam commiserated with Jim about his problem? Sep 14, 2017 at 22:04
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Sam commiserated with = offer sympathy to = be sympathetic to his best friend, Jim, about how his parents had mistreated him.

Regarding this sentence, to share one’s feeling is appropriate.

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