AskDefine | Define envious

Dictionary Definition

envious adj : showing extreme cupidity; painfully desirous of another's advantages; "he was never covetous before he met her"; "jealous of his success and covetous of his possessions"; "envious of their art collection" [syn: covetous, jealous]

User Contributed Dictionary



(no comparative or superlative)
  1. Feeling or exhibiting envy; jealously pained by the excellence or good fortune of another; maliciously grudging
  2. Excessively careful; cautious
  3. Malignant; mischievous; spiteful


Feeling or exhibiting envy
  • German: neidisch
  • Italian: invidioso
  • Portuguese: invejoso, invejosa
Excessively careful
Malignant; mischievous; spiteful

Extensive Definition

Envy may be defined as an emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it."
It can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from an upward social comparison threatening a person's self image: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar to the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been him or her who had the desired object.
Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others.
Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell(1930, p. 90-91)also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured in order to achieve a more just social system. The tendency to feel envy seems to be present in all cultures .

Envy and jealousy

Envy and jealousy are distinct emotions. In its correct usage, jealousy is the fear of losing something that one possesses to another person (a loved one in the prototypical form), while envy is the pain or frustration caused by another person having something that one does not have oneself. Envy typically involves two people, and jealousy typically involves three people. Envy and jealousy result from different situations and are distinct emotional experiences.
Both envy and jealousy are related to schadenfreude, the rejoicing at, or taking joy in, or getting pleasure from the misfortunes of others.

Envy in philosophy

Aristotle (in Rhetoric) defined envy (phthonos) "as the pain caused by the good fortune of others", while Kant defined it as "a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another's because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others" (in Metaphysics of Morals). seealso schadenfreude

Envy in the arts

In some cultures, envy is often associated with the color green, as in "green with envy". The phrase "green-eyed monster" refers to an individual whose current actions appear motivated by envy. This is based on a line from Shakespeare's Othello. Shakespeare mentions it also in The Merchant of Venice when Portia states: "How all the other passions fleet to air, as doubtful thoughts and rash embraced despair and shuddering fear and green-eyed jealousy!" Envy is known as one of the most powerful human emotions for its ability to control one as if envy was an entity in itself. Countless men and women have fallen prey to brief periods of intense envy followed by anger which then translates into aggression. One of the most common examples is a pair of lovers in which a secret love is discovered and can lead to sorrow, then intense envy, and eventually anger and aggression.

Envy in religion

Envy was one of the Seven deadly sins of the Christian Church.
The book of Exodus (20:17) states:
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his."
Perhaps today the donkey (ass) corresponds to a car, but it could represent anything desirable owned by another. The donkey cannot be readily stolen as it would be obvious. However being envious of the donkey as a possession is to be avoided, as it could lead to ungodly thoughts or deeds toward the neighbour or the donkey.
It's important to make the distinction between desiring something someone else has, and envying them because of something they have. Envy relates to negative feelings toward a person because of something that person possesses.

Further reading

  • Epstein, Joseph. (2003) Oxford University Press, N.Y.
  • Russell, Bertrand. The Conquest of Happiness. Liverwright, N.Y., 1930. Pgs. 82-94.
  • Schoeck, H. (1969). Envy: A theory of social behavior. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.
envious in Arabic: حسد
envious in Catalan: Enveja
envious in Czech: Závist
envious in Danish: Misundelse
envious in German: Neid
envious in Spanish: Envidia
envious in Esperanto: Envio
envious in French: Envie
envious in Croatian: Zavist
envious in Ido: Envidio
envious in Icelandic: Öfund
envious in Italian: Invidia
envious in Latin: Invidia
envious in Lithuanian: Pavydas
envious in Japanese: 嫉妬
envious in Occitan (post 1500): Enveja
envious in Polish: Zazdrość
envious in Portuguese: Inveja
envious in Russian: Зависть
envious in Slovak: Závisť
envious in Swedish: Avundsjuka
envious in Ukrainian: Заздрість

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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