I am a little confused with them because sometimes they have been translated similar and sometimes different in my native tongue. For example please choose the best adjective for following situations:

  1. A man/woman toward another man/women.
  2. A man toward his competitor (two lovers & one woman).
  3. A man toward all women of his family or even nationality or religion.

4 Answers 4


Envious: You envy something (or someone) another person has and you wish you have too, usually something you cannot have at all or which would need too much effort to have, especially when the other person got it with ease.

Jealous: You are jealous of something (or someone) you have and you fear it can be taken away from you, so its more bound to specific things, while you can envy a skill, for example, you can't be jealous of it, because it cannot be unlearned, usually.

Answering your samples:

  • A man/woman is envious toward another man/woman if the other one possesses something he/she doesn't have.

  • A man/woman is jealous toward another man/woman if he/she own some kind of strong relationship and fears it can be taken away.

  • A man is envious toward his competitor, and jealous toward the "object" of the competition.

  • A man is protective toward all women of his family or even nationality or religion, no envy or jealousy involved here in my opinion.

  • About number 3, I want a negative adjective because protective sounds positive. A woman doesn't need any protection when she decides about her relationship with men who are not her countrymen or have different religions and this reaction from a man toward this woman is completely meaningless. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 12:36
  • I misunderstood what you meant then. I'm not sure if, psychologically speaking, its a case of bad jealousy toward the woman, or of xenophobia towards the different country or religion...
    – Frhay
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 13:08
  • Yes it is negative nowadays. It is a kind of ownership sense toward all women of his family,relatives,country and religion! It is very common in some of eastern countries. I cannot call it xenophobia because it is only about women. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 13:19
  • Then couldn't "possessive" be your word?
    – Frhay
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 13:29
  • I am not sure. I wait to see ideas of natives about this word. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 13:39

Strictly speaking:

  • You are envious of someone who has something which you do not have.

  • You are jealous of what you have yourself, whether your possessions or your status or of the respect you feel should be paid—you are anxious to prevent others from taking it from you, or depriving you of it. In Exodus, God commands “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to [other gods and graven images], nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God”—jealous of the worship which is properly given only to Him.

The confusion arises because in erotic matters jealous is colloquially extended to embrace both meanings. In ordinary speech a man is said to be jealous not only of his ‘ownership’ of his wife's affections and person, but also of another man whom he believes has robbed him of her; and, by a further extension, a lover is said to be jealous of another man who commands the affections of a woman he desires.

  • 4
    I'm pretty sure that only a small minority of Americans maintain that distinction; for the majority of Americans, "jealous" has both senses. (The distinction is worth mentioning to an English language learner, since -- from what I've heard -- it's preserved in certain other English-speaking countries; but it's not a "strictly speaking" distinction so much as a "Britishly speaking" distinction, and the lack of it is not a "confusion" so much as "the apparent result of what was once confusion".)
    – ruakh
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 6:41
  • @ruakh You are quite right about US colloquial use (I cannot speak to British); but I don't believe that failure to observe the distinction would be acceptable in, for instance, an essay on Othello. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 10:23
  • What about number 3? Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 13:04
  • 1
    @user37324 That will depend on custom, which varies widely in time and place. A culture which sees men as either protectors or owners of women might very well speak of a man being in the strict sense jealous of the safety or reputation or chastity of 'his' womenfolk - anxious to protect them. That attitude will not play very well in the US today. Again, the strict use is not the colloquial use; jealous is unlikely to be used of this sort of thing in ordinary conversation. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 13:15
  • 3
    @user37324 Ah! That is a very different question than what you have asked. I suggest you post a new question, since if you edit your present question to make this clear you will make all the existing answers nonsensical! "Many men in eastern countries have the attitude that [describe it very precisely]. I disapprove of this attitude because [describe your reasons]. I am looking for a term which names or characterizes their attitude from my point of view." Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 14:24

I am a little confused with them because sometimes they have been translated similarly...

In fact the words are very similar, and they even form a circular definition in the dictionary. From NOAD:

envy (n.) a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck

jealousy (n.) the state or feeling of being jealous

jealousy (adj.) feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages

As to how they are used in everyday conversation, I'd say that jealous can cover a wide range of emotions, from the angry, resentful rage of a jilted lover, to the playful admiration of a friend.

Of the two words, envy is seldom used in the context of spurned lovers or unrequited love, while jealous is often used in that context:

"...he must have transferred part of his love to other women or to another woman — and she was jealous. She was jealous not of any particular woman but of the decrease of his love." (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

Yet the word jealous is sometimes used to express much more mild forms of envy as well:

Beth: "My parents are taking me to Europe next summer."
Seth: "I'm so jealous!"

Without any further context indicating the contrary, I'd guess that Seth is not expressing any simmering resentment; instead, he's using the word jealous in an informal sense, and admiring Beth's good luck in a friendly way. In that context, "I'm so jealous!" simply means: "I wish I could go to Europe, too!" But a deeper and more negative form of jealousy would mean: "I wish I could go to Europe, instead of you!"

As for your three examples, I'd go so far as to say that jealousy would probably be the more appropriate word for scenario #2 (the love triangle), but either word could be used for the other scenarios, and choosing the better word would depend on two factors: the depth of negative emotion felt by the person exhibiting the envy or jealousy, and what that person happened to be envious or jealous about.

Both words are considered generally negative, particularly when the feelings linger for long periods of time. Without any further context, I'd say that envy is probably a milder form of covetousness than jealousy. For example, if I heard either of these two sentences:

I am envious of my neighbor's new car.
I am jealous of my neighbor's new car.

either of them could mean nothing more than the person saying it's a very nice car, but I'd say the latter runs a higher risk of being interpreted as a negative and highly self-centered remark, to the point where the speaker is begrudging the neighbors for their new wheels.


Here's a strategy to differentiate between the two from http://www.vocabulary.com/articles/chooseyourwords/envy-jealousy/: remember how many people are needed for each vice:

You can feel envy about something you don't have but want, but you feel jealousy over something you already have but are afraid of losing, like that husband who's always hanging out next door.

See also http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/joy-and-pain/201401/what-is-the-difference-between-envy-and-jealousy:

And so envy is a two-person situation whereas jealousy is a three-person situation. Envy is a reaction to lacking something. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something (usually someone).:

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