Reluctant or Reticent?

People sometimes confuse the words reluctant and reticent.

Mignon Fogarty
1-minute read

Reluctant means unwilling or disinclined. It comes from a Latin word meaning “to struggle.”

Squiggly was a reluctant witness at the trial.

Aardvark was reluctant to reschedule his entire fishing trip just so he could go to a one-hour Mardi Gras committee meeting.


Reticent comes from the Latin word for “silent" and has traditionally been limited to describing speech. Whereas someone who is reluctant is generally unwilling or disinclined to do something, someone who is reticent is unwilling or reluctant to speak or is someone who prefers to keep quiet instead of sharing information. A reticent person would never be accused of sharing TMI, too much information. Here’s an example:

Squiggly tried to get Aardvark to tell stories about his fishing escapades, but Aardvark was reticent as usual.

Although reticent has been used to mean reluctant so often that sometimes reluctant is listed as a definition for reticent, if you want to be precise, it’s a good idea to use reticent in a more limited way to mean just reluctant to speak. Think of the i in reticent as matching the i in the word silent

Quick and Dirty Tip: Reticent and silent both have I’s.

reticent reluctant

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.