ret·​i·​cent ˈre-tə-sənt How to pronounce reticent (audio)
: inclined to be silent or uncommunicative in speech : reserved
: restrained in expression, presentation, or appearance
the room has an aspect of reticent dignityA. N. Whitehead
reticently adverb

Did you know?

The History of Reticent Is Less Than 200 Years Old

We hate to break it to the language sticklers among us, but use of reticent as a synonym of reluctant—though it veers away from the word’s Latin origins in the verb reticēre, meaning “to keep silent”—is well established, and there is no reason to be reticent about employing it. In fact, reticent took on its “reluctant” sense a mere 50 years after first appearing in English in the early 19th century with the meaning “inclined to be silent or uncommunicative.” Though brows may furrow and lips may purse, the development of reticent’s newer meaning has some logic to it: English speakers first used reticent synonymously with reluctant when the context was speech, as in “he was reticent to talk about his past,” keeping the word close to its “silent” beginnings. Eventually, however, exclusive association with speech was abandoned, and one can now be reticent to do anything, even if it’s to admit that language is not immutable.

Choose the Right Synonym for reticent

silent, taciturn, reticent, reserved, secretive mean showing restraint in speaking.

silent implies a habit of saying no more than is needed.

the strong, silent type

taciturn implies a temperamental disinclination to speech and usually connotes unsociability.

taciturn villagers

reticent implies a reluctance to speak out or at length, especially about one's own affairs.

was reticent about his plans

reserved implies reticence and suggests the restraining influence of caution or formality in checking easy informal conversational exchange.

greetings were brief, formal, and reserved

secretive, too, implies reticence but usually carries a suggestion of deviousness and lack of frankness or of an often ostentatious will to conceal.

the secretive research and development division

Examples of reticent in a Sentence

… his friends and associates are conspicuously reticent to discuss him in public. Martin Flanagan, Manchester Guardian Weekly, 29 Dec. 1991
… two or three rather reticent abstract paintings. Jay Jacobs, Gourmet, January 1979
An extremely reticent man, Morris does not like to talk about his experience in personal terms. Helen Dudar, New York Times Magazine, 30 Oct. 1977
the panel decided to investigate the fraud charges against the company, which has always been reticent about its internal operations her husband is by nature a reticent person, and she resigned herself to that fact long ago
Recent Examples on the Web Although the basic contours of the accord have been on the table for weeks, both sides seemed reticent to finalize any agreement, with talks repeatedly reaching the final stages before collapsing. Shannon K. Crawford, ABC News, 22 Nov. 2023 Though a defensive employee may be reticent to apologize for a mistake or accept compliments on a job well done, the effort to welcome their input goes a long way. Eugene Dilan, Forbes, 13 Nov. 2023 But people who formerly served in public office — or hope to soon — were not so reticent. Tammy Murga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 Nov. 2023 But many of his Republican colleagues are reticent to expel him without a conviction. David Sivak, Washington Examiner, 26 Oct. 2023 Baccarin, who’s from Rio de Janeiro, has a dreamy-eyed perkiness that syncs up with Brosnan’s reticent valor. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 13 Oct. 2023 The Biden Administration has spoken only briefly about international humanitarian law, but the International Criminal Court will not be as reticent. TIME, 14 Oct. 2023 Overseas shoppers are making a beeline for buzzy new developments all across the city, while domestic buyers remain somewhat reticent and on the sidelines, waiting. Abby Montanez, Robb Report, 3 Oct. 2023 Certainly, no school ever wants to put any of their players in a position to be embarrassed during an interview, especially a reticent kid who trusts the school to protect him in that environment. Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times, 20 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'reticent.' 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 reticent-, reticens, present participle of reticēre to keep silent, from re- + tacēre to be silent — more at tacit

First Known Use

1825, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of reticent was in 1825


Dictionary Entries Near reticent

Cite this Entry

“Reticent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


ret·​i·​cent ˈret-ə-sənt How to pronounce reticent (audio)
: tending not to talk or give out information
: quiet in tone or appearance
reticently adverb

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