I'm trying to distinguish the differences between English words that express emotional or psychological sensitivity, in particular "pity", "compassion", "sympathy", "empathy", "pathetic", and "pitiful". I'd appreciate some help associating those English words with their proper German equivalents (wie Mitleid, Mitgefühl, usw.).

  • 1
    Hä? What are you looking for? Just the translation? Did you check a dictionary? Btw. pathetic is not pathetisch und sympathy is not necessarily sympathisch ;p
    – Em1
    Mar 12, 2012 at 19:30
  • @Em1: That's what he's asking.
    – user508
    Mar 12, 2012 at 19:54
  • Good question, +1.
    – user508
    Mar 12, 2012 at 19:54
  • Pro Frage eine Frage, sonst wird eine Antwort akzeptiert, die 4 der 6 Fragen beantwortet. Aber bitte erst ein Wörterbuch benutzen.. Mehr als da wirst Du hier auch kaum kriegen. Mar 13, 2012 at 5:21
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    @Kevin I think you can't find a translation like that. There are a lot of words which have obviously similar German words, e.g. exact - exakt, but you do not always translate it like this. If you are you looking for the most likely and closest translation, that's the wrong way. It's better to understand what the German words means and the difference. E.g. Mitgefühl vs Mitleid.You can use them interchangeably like pity and compassion.Btw. compassion is more like Mitgefühl while pity is more like pity, if you want to find a perfect match
    – Em1
    Mar 13, 2012 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


In principle these words are very similar. The words are either synonyms or they define each other. That leads to the fact that the translation is intersecting. Which word you actually choose depends on the context.

I take the explanation from OALD.

pity: a feeling of sympathy and sadness caused by the suffering and troubles of others

compassion: a strong feeling of sympathy for people who are suffering and a desire to help them
Mitgefühl, Mitleid

sympathy: the feeling of being sorry for somebody; showing that you understand and care about somebody's problems
Beileid, Anteilnahme, Verständnis, auch Mitleid und Mitgefühl möglich

sympathy: friendship and understanding between people who have similar opinions or interests
Sympathie, Zuneigung

empathy: the ability to understand another person's feelings, experience, etc
Empathie, Einfühlungsvermögen

pathetic: making you feel pity or sadness

pitiful: deserving pity or causing you to feel pity
mitleidsvoll, bemitleidenswert


  • Some of this words, e.g. pity, is often translated as bedauerlich or schade like in That is a pity.

  • to feel sorry also means Mitleid empfinden

  • Great thought process and research!
    – Kevin
    Mar 13, 2012 at 14:50

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