Polish Language Blog

Sympathy for “Sympatia” Posted by on Feb 15, 2010 in Vocabulary

Valentine’s Day (walentynki) came and went and I hope it was a pleasant occasion for you with czekoladki (chocolates), kwiatki (flowers) and romantyczna kolacyjka (romantic dinner).
(Yes, all of the above are diminutive nouns, but that’s how we would say it).

What this Valentine’s Day made me realize was how confusing the word “sympatia” is for both Poles (when speaking English) and foreigners who are learning Polish.

I was reading a blog by a Polish woman, but written in English, and she mentioned something along the lines of “I am going to spend the day with my sympathy.”

At first it didn’t even register. “Sympathy”? Somebody died on Valentine’s Day?

And then I remembered my high school days and figured it out what she was talking about. And what she was talking about was her “sympatia” – boyfriend.
Sympatia is a handy all-purpose word, it can mean “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, or generally, somebody you have a crush on and are not even at a boyfriend-girlfriend level (yet).

So, what about “sympathy”? That’s współczucie in Polish.

Confusing? Just a little.

Sympatia” (noun, pl. sympatie) comes from the word “sympatyczny” (adjective, feminine: sympatyczna).

Sympatyczny chłopak (when talking about a guy), or sympatyczna dziewczyna (when talking about a girl) is someone who is nice, fun, loveable, pleasant and helpful. In other words, all the qualities we want in our prospective mates, right?

So there you have it, sympathy and sympatia are definitely two different things. And just because they sound vaguely similar in both languages, it doesn’t mean they can be used interchangeably.

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  1. Karen:

    I’m sure that the root word also has links to the French word – that if you call someone “sympa” it means that a person is really nice or kind hearted – not exactly sympathetic or a love but just a lovely person. Sort of the missing link that divides the 2 words.