Sympathetic and Nice – don’t let these false friends catch you out

The English words sympathetic and nice are false friends in many languages, so English learners might think they mean one thing when in fact they mean another. Let us help you get them right.

The meaning of sympathetic is more specific than kind or nice in English. It involves understanding other people’s feelings, especially when they have problems. In this video you’ll learn useful expressions you can use when bad things happen to other people, and you want to be able to show you care about them.

Note that ‘What a bummer!’ is a very informal phrase – probably something you’d say to a friend rather than your boss.

Click here to learn more useful everyday English expressions.

Sympathetic and Nice Video Script

We had a big phone bill last month.
Oh really? Why?
I sat on my phone and it called China.
That stinks. How much was it?
Six hundred dollars.
What? That’s awful. What a bummer!

Sympathetic and nice. What’s the difference?

Ashley’s got a bad cold.
Oh you poor thing.
Do you want a hot drink? Oh, I think I’ve got some aspirin in my bag.

Someone who’s sympathetic understands other people’s feelings, especially their problems.

Oh Jay. Look at you!
I spent too long in the sun.
You poor thing! Let’s go and find some cream to put on it.

Hi.
Hey. I just got a parking ticket.
Oh, that’s terrible.
Oh my!
Thirty six dollars.
I’m so sorry.

So what can we say when we’re sympathetic?

That stinks.
Oh that’s terrible.
What? That’s awful.
What a bummer!
On my!
You poor thing!
I’m so sorry.

So people who are sympathetic are kind to people who have problems and they show they care about them.

Poor Maria. You really have had a wretched time of it.
You are very understanding.
If only there was something I could do.
Just now if you could bring me an aspirin. I have a headache.
Don’t move. Just you wait there. I’ll be back in a moment.

But sympathetic doesn’t mean friendly and pleasant in English. Someone like that is nice.

I met the new logistics manager. She was very friendly and pleasant.
Yeah, she’s very nice, isn’t she?

Nice. We use this word a lot. Especially in British English.

That was a fantastic movie.
It was awesome.
Yeah, it was nice.
Just nice?
Yeah, I really liked it.

I’ve got so much to do.
Yeah.
I’m worried. How am I gonna get it all done.
Uhuh.
Oh Jay.
What?
Well you’re not very sympathetic.
Hey. Have I told you that I love you very much?
Oh. He’s not very sympathetic, but he’s very nice.

Click here to watch this video with a clickable transcript.
Click here to learn more useful everyday English expressions.

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