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

Did you know?

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

Example Sentences

The foundry work was grueling, but for a little longer Brierfield afforded these African Americans a way station of modest freedom and a residue of authentic independence that was fast disappearing for most rural blacks. Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery By Another Name, 2008
… 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 The Spartans opened a modest 21-13 gap over the Golden Arrows at the intermission. Indy Star Sports, The Indianapolis Star, 1 Mar. 2023 The modest Civic underpinnings have been elevated to a new plateau with minor refinements and a major upgrade in rolling stock. Csaba Csere, Car and Driver, 1 Mar. 2023 In what was perhaps a reflection of the current economic times, several brands presented collections that pushed forward a quiet, almost modest approach to high fashion, with clothes that felt wearable and sensible, while still being aspirational. Marianna Cerini, CNN, 28 Feb. 2023 His cunningly modest definitions of success made conspicuous failure almost impossible. Jackson Arn, The New Yorker, 28 Feb. 2023 Serving Small ceramic or glass cups are traditional, but modest wine glasses work well, as do tumblers. Eric Asimov, New York Times, 27 Feb. 2023 With a remarkably slim handle and modest weight (5 pounds) the Milwaukee hammer drill is a massive hole-blasting monster, producing 204 1-inch holes before its battery quit. Roy Berendsohn, Popular Mechanics, 27 Feb. 2023 The weekend total box office was a modest $39.6 million, the smallest since China suddenly abandoned strict COVID controls in mid-December. Patrick Frater, Variety, 26 Feb. 2023 Either outcome — even if modest in scope — would represent a marked improvement over the status quo. The Editors, National Review, 6 Feb. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'modest.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Latin modestus moderate; akin to Latin modus measure

First Known Use

1550, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of modest was in 1550

Dictionary Entries Near modest

Cite this Entry

“Modest.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Mar. 2023.

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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

What Did You Just Call Me?

  • brown chihuahua sitting on the floor with squinting eyes looking at the camera
  • Before we went to her house, Hannah told us her aunt was a flibbertigibbet.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?