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1. Fearful or wary of losing one's position or situation to someone else, especially in a sexual relationship: Her new boyfriend was jealous of her male friends.
2. Envious or resentful of the good fortune or achievements of another: I felt jealous when my coworker got a promotion. See Usage Note below.
3. Having to do with or arising from feelings of apprehension, bitterness, or envy: jealous thoughts.
4. Vigilant in guarding something: We are jealous of our good name.
5. Intolerant of disloyalty or infidelity; autocratic: a jealous god.
[Middle English jelous, from Old French gelos, gelous, from Vulgar Latin *zēlōsus, zealous, solicitous, from Late Latin zēlus, zeal; see zeal.]
Usage Note: Traditional usage holds that we are jealous when we fear losing something that is important to us and envious when we desire that which someone else has. In this view, one might experience jealousy upon seeing one's spouse flirt with another (because of the fear of losing the spouse), while one might experience envy upon seeing a friend with an attractive date (because of one's desire to have an attractive date of one's own). In common usage, this distinction is not always observed, and jealousy and jealous are often used in situations that involve envy. Our 2015 survey shows that the distinction is alive and well: large majorities of the Usage Panel approved the traditional uses of jealousy (She was jealous when she saw her husband having dinner with another woman) and envy (He was envious of the expensive sports car his neighbor bought), while only a minority accepted the switched uses: 29 percent accepted envious for the suspicious dinner, and 34 percent accepted jealous for the expensive sports car. The last figure does mean, though, that a third of the Panelists accept jealous meaning "envious," and an even larger minority (43 percent) accept it when the entity being coveted is a person rather than an object, as in Never having been popular myself, I'm jealous of your many friends. It is evident from these results that many careful writers prefer to see the distinction between the two words maintained, with jealous being reserved for situations where one fears losing something and envious used for situations where one wants what one does not have.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.