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Could I have some explanation about the word 'симпатичный'? In some contexts it seems to mean attractive and others it seems to be sympathetic. For example: “Цилиндр тихо прозвенел в ответ, остановился, потух, и в комнату вошла полная симпатичная женщина в белом чистом халате и сказала Ивану..."

Also, how does 'симпатичный' compare to 'привлекательный' in meaning?

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    Don't over analyze this word. It simply means good looking.
    – Dan
    Sep 24 '15 at 15:58
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Симпатия is a false friend of English "sympathy": it means "liking, fondness".

Likewise, симпатичный means "lovely, likeable".

Russian for "sympathy" would be сочувствие, сострадание, взаимопонимание, the first word being the Slavic calque of the Greek ancestor to the English word.

I can hardly imagine any context where "sympathy" could be translated as симпатия (or "sympathetic" as симпатичный).

Also, how does 'симпатичный' compare to 'привлекательный' in meaning?

Привлекательный is a calque of some cognate of "attractive" and means the same.

The two words are quite close in meaning, but привлекательный has more sexual connotation.

Симпатичная бабуля would mean "lovely old lady"; привлекательная бабуля would mean "attractive old lady". It would be weird to call an old lady attractive.

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  • I'd probably lose the "sexual connotation". Food can be "attractive", or a house. Sep 24 '15 at 17:51
  • @VictorBazarov: I think he's referring to the Russian word привлекательный. Can food and houses be this?
    – CocoPop
    Sep 25 '15 at 12:29
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    @CocoPop: you can say привлекательная цена or привлекательные условия. But when referring to a person, it means they are sexually attractive.
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 25 '15 at 13:32
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For example: “Цилиндр тихо прозвенел в ответ, остановился, потух, и в комнату вошла полная симпатичная женщина в белом чистом халате и сказала Ивану..."

"Симпатичный" -- at least in this case -- means that the narrator liked the way this woman looked, but didn't find her an extremely beautiful woman. There is, however, nothing bad about this word.

Also, how does 'симпатичный' compare to 'привлекательный' in meaning?

I think that "привлекательный" would be the word to describe a person that is beautiful according to the standard views on beauty. The word is made the same way as the English "attractive" <- "attract": "привлекательный" <- "привлекать". If someone is "cимпатичный/ая", you like their looks, but perhaps they don't look like people in fashion magazine.

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  • Можно сравнить 'привлекательный' со словом 'благовидный/благообразный?' Sep 29 '15 at 2:59
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    Можно. :) Слово "благообразный" намного реже, звучит чуть-чуть архаично. Например, думаю, что можно сказать "благообразный старец" (поправьте, если ошибаюсь!). Но это значит совсем другое: старец, который выглядит очень хорошим (с моральной точки зрения), спокойным... Что-то вроде respectable. Sep 29 '15 at 13:42
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    @Конрад: "Благовидный" -- тоже совсем другой смысл. Можно, например, найти благовидный предлог (excuse) что-то не делать. В современном языке как синоним "привлекательного" не употребляется. Sep 29 '15 at 13:44
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In fact this is an English issue as much as a Russian one.

The main Russian use of симпатичный ("good looking") and the main main English use ("compassion") are both different than the main European ones like sympathisch/simpático/sympathique etc, ("friendly", "pleasant" or "nice").

The Russian meaning comes from the common European one, probably all from French. The English meaning is really the most correct, etymologically. (The literal component parts of sympathy, compassion, сочувствие are the same ("with" + "feeling").) But both are false friends.

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  • This applies only to a full adjective "симпатичный". Both noun "симпатия" and short adjective "симпатичен" are of "European flavour" meaning rather "friendly/pleasant" without any sexual connotation.
    – Matt
    Sep 25 '15 at 10:30
  • Very good point. Will update. Sep 25 '15 at 10:33
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The meaning is 'good looking' (if 'sympathetic', then not in meanings close to "сочувствующий"). The difference with "привлекательный" is that it might be just personal impression, not necessarily based on general attractiveness of the mentioned one. "Привлекательный" expresses the idea that the person is definitely attractive to the others as well.

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