Here's the definition of "Diffident":

Showing modest reserve; lacking self-confidence

Question: Does "modest reserve" suggest a negative meaning?

Indeed, it seems irrelevant to the word "diffident" itself, but what came to my mind is that "modest reserve" seems to suggest negatively "lack of confident" when I saw the definition of "Diffident." However, after I looked up the word "modest" and "reserve" separately in Cambridge, it seemed otherwise to me since "modest" tends to have a positive meaning according to the dictionary. I'm quite confused about it.

For reference, definitions are shown below:

(Modest) not usually talking about or making obvious your own abilities and achievements

(Reserve) the habit of not showing your feelings or thoughts

  • No, I would not interpret modest reserve negatively. Incidentally, I think you must hve copied the definition out wrongly: "lacking of self-confident" doesn't make sense.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 17:03
  • @ColinFine Indeed, it should have been lacking self-confident. But according to Magoosh interpretation, it says "diffident" also has the meaning of modest reserve, and I think diffident has a negative meaning. So does it suggest "diffident" doesn't have to be negative or did I misinterpret it?
    – Eric
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 17:09
  • No, diffident is not necessarily negative. And lacking self-confident is still ungrammatical.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 17:12
  • @ColinFine Indeed... "lacking self-confidence" would be correct. Thank you for pointing it out! So... how do you think about these two words, "modest reserve" and "diffident"?
    – Eric
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 17:18
  • I don't understand the question, @Eric.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 17:27

1 Answer 1


"Diffident" can be used with either a negative or a positive implication. Indeed, two different people can both use it of the same third person, and one ise it positively and the other negatively. That is, both Bob and Sam might describe Pat as diffident, but Bob means thsi in a negative way, while Same means it as positive.

Probably the most common meaning of "diffident" is "lacking in self-confidence". This is often but not always seen in a negative light, but usually only as slightly negative

However a person might be described as "diffident" when the person does not put himself (or herself) forward, is unassuming. In this sense it would be the opposite of "brash" or "aggressive". This sense would be considered by some as positive, and by others as negative. I think this sense is what is meant by "modest reserve".

Complicating the issue is that the external signs of these two senses are similar, so a person might be described as "diffident" in one sense when the othe would be more accurate.

In sort, context is required to determine if "diffident" is being used in a negative or positive way.

  • Thank you for ur careful explanation. I feel like learning languages is really not an easy work... you can use the same word to express either positive or negative or simply neutral tone.
    – Eric
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 10:02

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