dif·​fi·​dent ˈdi-fə-dənt How to pronounce diffident (audio)
: hesitant in acting or speaking through lack of self-confidence
archaic : distrustful
diffidently adverb

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What is an antonym of diffident?

Diffident and confident are etymologically related antonyms, perched at opposite ends of a scale of self-assurance. Both words trace back to the Latin verb fīdere, which means "to trust." Diffident arose from a combination of fīdere and the prefix dis-, meaning "the absence of"; it has been used to refer to individuals lacking in self-trust since the 15th century. Confident arose from confīdere, a term created by combining fīdere with the intensifying prefix con-. That term has been used for self-trusting folks since at least the late 16th century. Fīdere puts the trust in several other English words too, including fidelity and fiduciary.

Choose the Right Synonym for diffident

shy, bashful, diffident, modest, coy mean not inclined to be forward.

shy implies a timid reserve and a shrinking from familiarity or contact with others.

shy with strangers

bashful implies a frightened or hesitant shyness characteristic of childhood and adolescence.

a bashful boy out on his first date

diffident stresses a distrust of one's own ability or opinion that causes hesitation in acting or speaking.

felt diffident about raising an objection

modest suggests absence of undue confidence or conceit.

modest about her success

coy implies a pretended shyness.

put off by her coy manner

Examples of diffident in a Sentence

Being suspicious of conventions, demotic equals were often at a loss in their daily encounters: shall one act diffident or clamant of one's rights? Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, 2000
Whatever made him diffident at the prospect of having a military strike ordered in his defense, he kept it to himself. George Stephanopoulos, Newsweek, 15 Mar. 1999
"It's Indianapolis 500," Andrew said with a polite smile, pleasing me with his diffident correction. Camille Minichino, The Lithium Murder, 1999
… a boy of 8 or 13, gazing foursquare at the camera, diffident but showing off, petulant but vulnerable … Walker Percy, New York Times Book Review, 11 Oct. 1987
She was diffident about stating her opinion. for someone who makes a living performing for other people, the actress is remarkably diffident in real life
Recent Examples on the Web In the light of Rifkin’s diffident anguish, the heartfelt whimsy of these scenes plays like Allen’s own nostalgic reminiscence of his early, funny stuff—and of the way that his life used to be. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 3 Apr. 2024 Watching an early appearance of Melanie on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson only left me more intrigued about her ambivalent relationship toward fame: How could the same person be so confident and charismatic behind a guitar, but so diffident and uncomfortable chatting with Carson? Joseph Fenity, The Hollywood Reporter, 30 Jan. 2024 Many Israelis are critical of his fractious handling of the country before the Oct. 7 attack and resent his diffident treatment of the families of hostages held in Gaza. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 22 Jan. 2024 The truculent and diffident teen-ager, all floppy hair and hormones, disruptively acts out his frustrations, while nonetheless becoming a good big brother to the two girls; meanwhile, his sparks of playful flirtation with Anne ignite an uncontrollable conflagration of desire. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 6 Oct. 2023 As reluctant hero Pippin, Dallaire can’t help but be appealing with his diffident smile and locks of Owen Wilson-style hair. David L. Coddon, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 July 2023 An anthropologist and activist based in London, al-Rasheed sketches a somewhat diffident revisionist history of the creation of Saudi Arabia—the only country in the world named after its ruling family. Lisa Anderson, Foreign Affairs, 8 Dec. 2020 By this time, her diffident singing and cucumber-cool delivery became her calling card. Kory Grow, Rolling Stone, 6 June 2023 His retiring, anxious energy smartly updates the diffident English romantic persona cultivated by the likes of Hugh Grant and Colin Firth — but with a timely hint of Gen-Z neurosis in the mix. Guy Lodge, Variety, 16 Mar. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'diffident.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, borrowed from Latin diffīdent-, diffīdens "distrustful, lacking in confidence," from present participle of diffīdere "to lack confidence (in), have no trust (in)," from dif-, assimilated form of dis- dis- + fīdere "to trust, have confidence (in)," going back to Indo-European *bhei̯dh- "trust, entrust" — more at faith entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of diffident was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near diffident

Cite this Entry

“Diffident.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diffident. Accessed 13 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


dif·​fi·​dent ˈdif-əd-ənt How to pronounce diffident (audio)
: lacking confidence : timid
diffidently adverb

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