adjective dif·fi·dent \ˈdi-fə-dənt, -ˌdent\

Definition of diffident

  1. 1 :  hesitant in acting or speaking through lack of self-confidence

  2. 2 archaic :  distrustful

  3. 3 :  reserved, unassertive



diffident was our Word of the Day on 06/18/2014. Hear the podcast!

Examples of diffident in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. “It's Indianapolis 500,“ Andrew said with a polite smile, pleasing me with his diffident correction. —Camille Minichino, The Lithium Murder, 1999

  4. … 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

  5. She was diffident about stating her opinion.

  6. for someone who makes a living performing for other people, the actress is remarkably diffident in real life

Did You Know?

Diffident and confident are antonyms, but both have a lot to do with how much trust you have in yourself. Etymology reveals the role that that underlying trust plays in the two terms. Confident and diffident both trace back to the Latin verb fidere, which means "to trust." Diffident arose from a combination of fidere and the prefix dis-, meaning "the absence of," and it has been used to refer to individuals lacking in self-trust since the 15th century. Confident arose from confidere, a term created by combining fidere with the intensifying prefix con-. That term has been used for self-trusting folks since at least the late 16th century. By the way, fidere puts the trust in several other English words too, including fidelity and fiduciary.

Origin and Etymology of diffident

Middle English, from Latin diffident-, diffidens, present participle of diffidere to distrust, from dis- + fidere to trust — more at bide

First Known Use: 15th century

Synonym Discussion of 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

DIFFIDENT Defined for English Language Learners


adjective dif·fi·dent \ˈdi-fə-dənt, -ˌdent\

Definition of diffident for English Language Learners

  • : lacking confidence : not feeling comfortable around people

  • : very careful about acting or speaking

DIFFIDENT Defined for Kids


adjective dif·fi·dent \ˈdi-fə-dənt\

Definition of diffident for Students

  1. 1 :  lacking confidence With encouragement he became less diffident.

  2. 2 :  cautious about acting or speaking “Speak out, my boy—don't be diffident.” — Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up diffident? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to help become familiar with something

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • ludwig-richter-spring-has-arrived
  • Which is a synonym of upbraid?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.