mod·​est ˈmä-dəst How to pronounce modest (audio)
: placing a moderate estimate on one's abilities or worth
: neither bold nor self-assertive : tending toward diffidence
: arising from or characteristic of a modest nature
: observing the proprieties of dress and behavior : decent
: limited in size, amount, or scope
a family of modest means
: unpretentious
a modest home
modestly adverb

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Modest: Ever So Humble

When used to modify a sum or amount, or to mean "unpretentious," modest conveys a sense of not being excessive:

Captives received a modest salary of $0.80 per day, working at farms around Sonoma County picking apples, prunes, hops and other crops.
Janet Balicki, The Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat, 8 Dec. 2016

The minister of foreign affairs drove up in a modest car and joined our conversation.
Michael Taussig, Vice, 22 June 2016

The adjective humble is often used this way too, as when one speaks of "one's humble abode." Both words can be used in a humorous way that might be seen as self-deprecating.

Like humble, modest adequately describe one who does not boast about one's achievements, thereby avoiding a different kind of excessiveness:

Louisa May Alcott was always modest about her gifts; whatever early dreams of genius she might have nourished had been knocked out of her years before her literary fame arrived.
Barbara L. Packer, The New York Times Book Review, 25 Oct. 1987

Soft-spoken and modest in conversation, Knoll would be accomplished enough with his visual-effects credits in movies alone.
Julie Hinds, The Detroit Free Press, 11 Dec. 2016

Choose the Right Synonym for modest

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

chaste, pure, modest, decent mean free from all taint of what is lewd or salacious.

chaste primarily implies a refraining from acts or even thoughts or desires that are not virginal or not sanctioned by marriage vows.

they maintained chaste relations

pure differs from chaste in implying innocence and absence of temptation rather than control of one's impulses and actions.

the pure of heart

modest and decent apply especially to deportment and dress as outward signs of inward chastity or purity.

preferred more modest swimsuits
decent people didn't go to such movies

Examples of modest in a Sentence

… these remnants he lacked the will to discard, depressed him, deepening the low fever of depression in which even as modest a task as removing a blue doorknob loomed like a mountain almost impossible to climb. John Updike, Harper's, October 2004
You're the hero, so then you have to behave in a certain way—there is a prescription for it. You have to be modest, you have to be forbearing, you have to be deferential, you have to be understanding. Philip Roth, American Pastoral, 1997
They own a modest home near the beach. She enjoyed modest success with her singing career. He earns a modest income. We live on a modest budget. New cars are now available at relatively modest prices. He has only a modest amount of knowledge on the subject. It is a book of only modest importance. She's very modest about her achievements. Don't be so modest. Your performance was wonderful! “I'm not a hero. I was just doing my job,” he said in his characteristically modest way. See More
Recent Examples on the Web This approach might lead to modest initial gains but significantly mitigates the risk of financial distress in unstable market conditions. Danny Kattan, Forbes, 23 Feb. 2024 The more modest goals are too conservative for one county commissioner, Arthur Griffin, who previously served as school board chairman. Rebecca Noel, Charlotte Observer, 22 Feb. 2024 And the movie itself was a giant-sizing of a franchise that was previously modest in scope. Aaron Couch, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Feb. 2024 At a modest home in Owasso, a man who identified himself as Nex’s father said the family remained in mourning and declined to comment on the school’s handling of the incident. Edgar Sandoval, New York Times, 21 Feb. 2024 The median balance, which ignores outliers, was a more modest $65,300. Daniel De Visé, USA TODAY, 21 Feb. 2024 At just under 2,300 square feet, the home is modest in size, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an airy great room. Emma Reynolds, Robb Report, 20 Feb. 2024 While Black Americans also saw homeownership advance, the gain was modest. Nazmul Ahasan, Fortune, 20 Feb. 2024 On Monday, Ohtani accomplished that modest goal in a memorable way — so much so, reliever Evan Phillips teased Feyereisen about retrieving the afternoon’s biggest souvenir. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, 19 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History


Latin modestus moderate; akin to Latin modus measure

First Known Use

1550, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of modest was in 1550

Dictionary Entries Near modest

Cite this Entry

“Modest.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


mod·​est ˈmäd-əst How to pronounce modest (audio)
: having a limited and not overly high opinion of oneself and one's abilities
: not boastful : somewhat shy
a modest winner
: moderate in amount, size, or extent
a modest request
a modest cottage
: clean and proper in thought, conduct, and dress : decent
: limited in size, amount, or scope
modestly adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on modest

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