Word Confusion: Empathetic / Empathic versus Emphatic

Posted July 6, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I got to wondering what the difference was between empathetic and empathic, and wouldn’t you know. There isn’t one. That’s one less confusion we need worry about. Okay, okay, one less for me to gnaw over.

However, there is a difference between empathic (empathetic) and emphatic. It’s quite easy to confuse these two as they share common letters and a similar beginning. And sometimes people can be quite emphatic about how empathic they are.

Lord knows, I get quite emphatic about proper grammar and using the, ahem, correct word in one’s manuscript. Unfortunately, not everyone is that empathetic towards me…sob…

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Empathetic Emphatic
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: empathy and emphaticemphatic

A young boy giving an injured baseball player a hug

“There’s No Crying in Baseball!” by Jax House under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Finn is empathic over Meaghan’s hurt from sliding (sort of) into home.

A chunk of text with the initial letter emphasized at the start of the paragraph

“Emphasis” is Armchair’s own work and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I’d say the boxed “T” and the bolded styling are pretty emphatic in this bit of text.

Part of Grammar:

Variant spelling: empathic

Adjective; Noun
Plural for noun: emphatics
Showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Of, relating to, or characterized by empathy, the psychological identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of others

Showing or giving emphasis

  • Expressing something forcibly and clearly
  • [Of word or syllable] Bearing the stress
  • [Linguistics] Denoting certain Arabic consonants that are pronounced with both dental articulation and constriction of the pharynx

Using emphasis in speech or action


  • Insistent

Very impressive or significant

  • Strongly marked
  • Striking

Clearly or boldly outlined

[Grammar; stressed auxiliary do in affirmative statement] Of or relating to a form used to add emphasis, especially, in English

[Linguistics] An emphatic consonant

She’s compassionate and empathetic towards her daughter.

I have been touched by the empathetic response to my bad luck.

I could wish the school had a sensitive, empathetic counselor.

He’s such an attentive, empathic listener.

Tears may elicit an empathic response in people.

The children were emphatic that they would like to repeat the experience.

It was quite an emphatic movement of his hand.

He walked stiffly, with an emphatic limp.

Trump is an emphatic man.

I must be emphatic about this particular.

Tonight’s sunset expressed an emphatic beauty.

It stands, like a great, stone dagger, emphatic against the sky.

He did call you.

I do like it.

Emphatics are particular to the Semitic languages.

Some linguists prefer the term pharyngealized consonant.

Adjective: nonempathic
Adverb: empathetically, empathically, nonempathically
Noun: empathist, empathy
Adjective: unemphatic
Adverb: emphatically, unemphatically
Noun: emphases, emphasis, emphaticalness
History of the Word:
First known use of empathetic (a blend of empath(y) + -etic) was in 1932.

First known use of empathic was in 1909.

Early 18th century, via the late Latin from the Greek emphatikos, from emphasis.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Dirt Shoveled on Casket is part of a post, “You Can’t Take It With You”, by Dennis and is courtesy of Seek and Save the Lost.