Meaning of “sympathetic” in the English Dictionary

"sympathetic" in British English

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uk /ˌsɪm.pəˈθet.ɪk/ us /ˌsɪm.pəˈθet̬.ɪk/

sympathetic adjective (UNDERSTANDING)

B2 used to describe someone who shows, especially by what they say, that they understand and care about someone else's suffering:

He suffers from back trouble too, so he was very sympathetic about my problem.
She just needed someone who would lend a sympathetic ear to her (= listen to her in a kind and understanding way) once in a while.

If a character in a book or film is sympathetic, they are described or shown in such a way that you are able to understand the character's feelings, with the result that you like them:

She comes across as a more sympathetic character in the movie.

More examples

  • You'd think his children would be more sympathetic towards him after all he's gone through .
  • She tried to use a sympathetic tone of voice.
  • Never having been ill himself, he wasn't a sympathetic listener.
  • I tried to tell her about the awful day I'd had, but she wasn't very sympathetic.
  • Claire's always one to lend a sympathetic ear if you have problems.

sympathetic adjective (SUPPORT)

C2 agreeing with or supporting:

The party is considered to be sympathetic to/towards welfare reform.
Did he give your proposal/complaints a sympathetic hearing?

More examples

  • The current government are very sympathetic towards environmental issues.
  • The former president was considered sympathetic to the nationalist cause.
adverb uk /ˌsɪm.pəˈθet.ɪ.kəl.i/ us /ˌsɪm.pəˈθet̬.ɪ.kəl.i/

She listened sympathetically, nodding her head now and again.

(Definition of “sympathetic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"sympathetic" in American English

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us /ˌsɪm·pəˈθet̬·ɪk/

sympathetic adjective (UNDERSTANDING)

showing, esp. by what you say, that you understand and care about someone’s problems or suffering:

He suffers from back trouble too, so he was sympathetic.

A sympathetic character in a book or movie is one whose actions are understandable and who is therefore likable.

sympathetic adjective (SUPPORTING)

showing your support and agreement:

We are sympathetic to that point of view and have the same goals.

(Definition of “sympathetic” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)