Apparently both words empathetic and empathic mean the same thing, yet I see one person refer to the specific type of writing as empathetic writing, while another empathic writing. Who's correct and why?


5 Answers 5


For better or worse, the meaning of the word empathic has been forever tainted by its use in the science fiction and fantasy realm -- I would avoid using it interchangeably with empathetic just to avoid the connotation of spooky action at a distance. "Correct" and "right" aren't interchangeable either -- using language correctly isn't right if it raises unnecessary misunderstanding.

  • +1 Also my dictionary doesn't recognise "empath". I think it's a word derived from "empathic", invented by some scifi/fantasy author.
    – slim
    Jan 30, 2012 at 19:33

An empath is a person who reads the emotions of those in the vicinity, so logically empathic implies a connection to an empath. Empathetic is more like the tendency of someone to care for another in general. So where empathic seems to pertain to a person's ability to perceive emotion, empathetic is more like how others tend to sympathize with a person or situation.

So if you're referring to a writing, I would use "empathetic" unless you want to imply that it's something for which you personally feel emotion.

  • 2
    I don't recognise this distinction. I would simply regard "empathic" as a less frequent alternative to "empathetic".
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 4, 2011 at 16:32
  • As per bye's answer, an empath is also a person in a fantasy/science fiction novel who has some psychic ability to read another person's mind or feelings. This may be a desirable or an undesirable association. Dec 19, 2011 at 23:00

Merriam-Webster says:

empathetic, adj. : involving, characterized by, or based on empathy

empathic, adj. : empathetic

The Grammarist notes that empathetic is used about five times more often than empathic in news publications, "probably due to analogy with sympathetic."

Google Ngrams, however, shows empathic winning; Language Log speculates that this may be due to the prevalence of empathic in psychological research and, yes, science fiction.


As I've seen the terms used, "empathetic" describes an ability or state of sharing someone else's emotional state or experience, thus,

An attorney must be empathetic to a degree, or else his client will feel judged or will feel that he is being invalidated, and the trust essential to the relationship will be hard to develop. An attorney who is too empathetic, however, runs the risk of internalizing his client's concerns, making the subject of the engagement personal, and losing the professional detachment that is essential to sound legal advice.

"Empathic" describes someone who has an unnatural or uncommon degree of empathy, thus,

Julie is so reserved with her emotions that I can't imagine how Sarah picked up on her frustration; Sarah must be empathic.

Empaths, however, are properly discussed only when one is aboard the starship Enterprise.

  • Often used interchangeable. Empathetic, in practice, generally carries the sense of caring for someone; whereas Empathic defines one's competence. Concur most closely to Phil N.
    – user53682
    Oct 8, 2013 at 13:42

Empathetic really annoys me! It seems to imply over-empathising. Like being so touchy-feely that it appears pathetic to others.

Empathic, every time.


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