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.

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    Good question. I hope the answers won't concentrate too much on jealous being an adverb and envy being a noun though.
    – Mr Lister
    Feb 26, 2018 at 12:17
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    Simpsons did it first. (No really, it is explained quite well, and you'll be most likely to remember after seeing this gag!)
    – AvgJoe54
    Feb 26, 2018 at 15:41
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    "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
    Feb 26, 2018 at 17:41
  • @Alexander fully agree, It's I am envious/jealous not I am envy or I jealous
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 27, 2018 at 10:17

4 Answers 4


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?

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    I'd also just add that I've heard sarcastic Jealous much? quite often over recent years, but I've never heard Envious much? Feb 26, 2018 at 13:07
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    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. Feb 26, 2018 at 14:59
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    That 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
    Feb 26, 2018 at 15:22
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    @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
    Feb 26, 2018 at 19:43
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    @Kat Also "a jealously guarded secret"
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:37

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.

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    This 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
    Feb 26, 2018 at 18:52
  • Yeah, envy is more directed towards the thing, while jealousy is more towards the person who has the thing. Feb 26, 2018 at 23:38

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.

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    This 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
    Feb 27, 2018 at 9:22
  • absolutely my understanding also. I also think people say jealous when they mean envious. Feb 27, 2018 at 13:10

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."

  • 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> Feb 27, 2018 at 13:09

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