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I kind of have an idea that "reluctant" and "hesitant" both have similar meanings, but I do not know the actual difference in the nuances they have. Could someone please teach me?

  • Most native speakers use these words interchangeably to mean the same thing. There is no need to worry about making the wrong choice here. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 28 '16 at 12:01
  • @TRomano: That makes it really easy for me! Thanks a lot :) – Mikiko May 2 '16 at 0:06
  • As a native (in north-west England), I use "relucatant" to suggest not wanting to do something, and "hesitant" to suggest having doubts or being careful. Given the chance to drive a friend's Ferrari, I'd be hesitant (due to fear/nervousness) although I'd love to drive it, whereas I'd be reluctant to drive an old Lada at any significant speed. – Mark K Cowan Nov 28 '16 at 18:07
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They have similar meanings, but they are not totally synonymous. In other words, they are not always interchangeable.

According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the noun form of reluctant "reluctance" comes from obsolete verb reluct which means "to struggle or rebel against" from Latin reluctari which means:

to struggle against, resist, make opposition

When you are reluctant to do something, it basically means you are not willing to do it (you are against it) or you don't want to do it.

However, when you are hesitant to do something, it could be either you don't like it or there is something that makes you wonder or pause for a while. The reason could be you are worried about consequences of your action, or you are not 100% sure about whether it is the right thing to do. That's why you have not made a decision yet and are hesitating.

You need to find example sentences on the internet and try to get yourself familiarized with them.

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  • Now it's completely clear to me and I know when to use which one. Thank you! – Mikiko Apr 28 '16 at 7:42
  • @user170461 My pleasure. Glad I could help. – user24743 Apr 28 '16 at 7:43
  • @user170461 The linked question, What is the difference between ELU and ELL? will be helpful to you. Again, it is up to you where you post your question, but remember, your question could be closed or migrated back to ELL if it is off-topic on ELU. Good luck. – user24743 Apr 28 '16 at 8:08
  • So the gist of your point is that reluctance means complete unwillingness resentment, and hesitancy means indecisiveness and wariness, isn't it? If you're reluctant, you just don't want to do it even though you have to; if you're hesitant, you might still want to do it, but you're uncertain as you don't want to make rash decisions? – Vun-Hugh Vaw Jan 18 '17 at 7:21
  • "Hesitant" definitely has that element of pausing for a time. "Reluctant" does not; the action may well happen instantly, but the person wants to resist it to a degree even while it happens. – Stefan Reich Sep 11 '18 at 11:37

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