‘Reticent’ vs. ‘Reluctant’





I keep seeing and hearing this, so I thought I’d finally put in my two cents – reticent does not mean the same thing as reluctant.

That’s right. Reticent means to be inclined keep one’s thoughts and feelings to oneself, to be reserved, uncommunicative, silent.

Reluctant means unwilling, disinclined – not only in connection with speaking, but with anything. For example you might be reluctant to have a second helping of Aunt Millie’s “famous” liver-and-onions aspic. Reticence has nothing to do with your state of mind. In fact, if you are pressed to do so, you might even express your reluctance quite volubly. (“Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly, Aunt Millie. It’s delicious, but if I ate any more, it would spoil my appetite for the divine fruitcake I know you’ll be serving us next.”)

Clearly, reticent and reluctant don’t mean the same thing. Chances are, when you read or hear that someone is “reticent to do something,” the writer or speaker means that he or she is “reluctant” to do it.

Writers should know better than to confuse two entirely different words. Of course, you might feel reluctant to correct someone who gets the two concepts mixed up. If so, you’d probably be reticent, and remain silent.

Hope I’ve been clear. If not, don’t let reticence keep you from letting me know.

4 replies
  1. Tom Kelley
    Tom Kelley says:

    Thanks, Howard. I’d always thought “shy” was a synonym for reticent but am now back on the straight ‘n’ narrow! :)

    • Howard Daniel
      Howard Daniel says:

      Hi, Tom. Well, shy people may well be reticent when they find themselves in a group where a discussion is going on. But shyness and reticence aren’t the same. Happy my little blog has been helpful.


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