Grammar Envy vs. Jealousy: What’s the Difference? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Envy vs. Jealousy: What’s the Difference?

Many of us can agree that envy and jealousy are typically undesirable emotions: The words’ mere utterance often indicates that something might be amiss.

At the same time, some English speakers might sometimes mistake one word for the other or simply use them interchangeably. We’ll explain their differences here. That way, none of us will need to be envious of others’ command of the two words’ definitions.

The Difference Between Envy and Jealousy

As we’ve suggested, you likely know that envy and jealousy are negative emotions. Both refer to a state in which we aren’t feeling good about something that another person has or is doing. As communicators who care about clarity, we want to use each word with precision.

Let’s start with envy. This word can be a noun or a verb describing how a person feels when they want what someone else has. The wanting might be for a trait (e.g., height, beauty), a material thing (e.g., a car, money), status, or a highly attractive significant other.

If you are envious (adjective), you see something in another person’s ownership and you don’t like that you don’t have it as well. Let’s further look at examples:

You can clearly see the envy John has for his brother’s thriving business. (noun)

The losing football team players envied their rivals as they raised the trophy. (verb)

Is Jameson’s gorgeous girlfriend making you envious, Renaldo? (adjective)

Jealousy (noun) is related to envy, but the aim of its emotion differs. Where envy applies to something someone else has, jealousy concerns something that we have but feel insecure or overprotective about. It also can be expressed as an adjective (jealous) and an adverb (jealously).


My dog gets jealous when it sees me petting other animals. (adjective)

Maggie was full of jealousy when she saw a coworker kiss her husband on the cheek. (noun)

Daniel jealously intervened when he spotted Katherine dancing with Rafael. (adverb)

We hope that helps you in telling jealousy and envy apart. There’s also an easy rule you can follow.

A Way to Separate Jealousy from Envy

It’s a simple trick, but it works. In some cases, you can substitute jealous for envious without notably changing the sentence’s meaning:

I was envious of my cousin for achieving the top award at our school.

I was jealous of my cousin for achieving the top award at our school.

Even though envious is the more-accurate use, we still understand what’s being expressed.

Conversely, we can’t usually substitute envious for jealous without changing the sentence’s meaning:

Mark became jealous when his girlfriend sat next to a man from their gym.

Mark became envious when his girlfriend sat next to a man from their gym.

Because Mark’s girlfriend is already a close part of his life, he would not feel envious of her sitting with another person: He would feel jealous. He would feel envious if she was not his girlfriend but he longed for her to be.

Come Back for More Precision with Grammar

Good grammar contributes to clear and meaningful writing, which is a skill that can benefit us throughout a lifetime. We hope you return to our website often for the many discussions we engage about the finer points of expression in English. We’re also always adding new content!

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