The Meaning of Reticent: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of reticent? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word reticent, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word reticent mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Dictionary, the word reticent (pronounced ˈrɛt ə sənt) is an adjective that is used to describe someone who is reserved, reluctant, or restrained. A person who is described as being reticent usually does not talk much, and they are very quiet and uncommunicative. This can either simply be used as a descriptor for someone who is quiet, or it can have a negative connotation. If someone is reticent regarding pertinent information, this can slow business to a halt. It is not a good thing to be described as reticent in an environment in which communication is key. Some people have naturally reticent personalities that they must overcome to make an impact on their given industry, while others use their reticence to their advantage. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

There are many different languages that also use words that mean reticent. You may notice that some of these translations look and sound similar to the word reticent. These cognates are often formed when two words of different languages share a common origin, such as Latin or Greek. This list of translations for the word reticent is provided by Word Sense.

  • Russian: сде́ржанный‎, скры́тный‎
  • Chinese – Mandarin: 沉默‎ (chénmò) (taciturn)
  • Hungarian: visszafogott‎
  • Dutch: terughoudend‎
  • Maori: whakakumu‎, ngākau tōngā‎, hūnguengue‎
  • Polish: małomówny‎, dyskretny‎
  • Catalan: reticent‎
  • Portuguese: reticente‎
  • Finnish: vaitelias‎, vähäpuheinen‎
  • Serbo-Croatian: šutljiv‎ (masc.), ćutljiv‎ (masc.), povučen‎ (masc.)
  • German: still‎, verschwiegen‎, zurückhaltend‎
  • Japanese: 寡黙‎ (かもく, kamoku)
  • Swedish: tillbakadragen‎, sluten‎, förtegen‎, tystlåten‎
  • French: réticent‎, hésitant‎
  • Spanish: reticente‎, reservado (masc.)

How can the word reticent be used in a sentence?

The word reticent can be used in many different situations or scenarios to describe someone who is quiet or uncommunicative. In this first example, Rick’s boss is angry with him for not communicating about a problem with a client.

Boss: Why didn’t you tell me this was going on?

Rick: I just didn’t want to disturb you. I know you are really busy and I thought I could handle it, but I was wrong.

Boss: Yes you were. You cannot be reticent when it comes to issues with my clients. They are my livelihood, and if my communication with them isn’t at 100%, I – and you – will both be fired.

Rick: Understood. It won’t happen again.

In this example, Rick’s boss describes his actions as reticent, meaning uncommunicative. In this next example, the word reticent will be used to describe someone who is shy. Rick and his coworker Maura are talking about the new person who just started. 

Rick: Have you met the new guy yet?

Maura: Yeah, he’s a jerk. I tried to make small talk with him while I was making a coffee and he completely ignored me and blew me off. One word answers; he ran away when I turned my back to put my creamer in! He’s aloof, and I don’t like him.

Rick: Wow, all that from a five minute conversation? Maybe he’s just reticent, a little nervous when it’s his first day on the job. Give him a chance.

Maura: Fine. But this is strike one.

Here, Rick uses the word reticent to describe the shy new coworker.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word reticent?

There are many different words that can be used in place of the word reticent. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful to know if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself or if you are simply looking to expand your vocabulary! This list of synonyms is provided by Thesaurus.

  • unforthcoming
  • abashed
  • uncommunicative
  • timid
  • humble
  • constrained
  • secretive
  • unspeaking
  • mum
  • reticent
  • taciturn
  • restrained
  • chary
  • uptight
  • self-conscious
  • reserved
  • nervous
  • blushful
  • demure
  • dummied up
  • quiet
  • dried up
  • silent
  • sheepish
  • coy
  • tight-lipped
  • overmodest
  • close
  • shy
  • self-effacing
  • hesitant
  • unassertive
  • diffident
  • clammed up
  • bashful
  • timorous
  • confused
  • modest
  • retiring
  • close-mouthed
  • verecund
  • recoiling
  • backward
  • shrinking
  • shamefaced
  • blushing
  • embarrassed

There are also many different words that mean the opposite of the word reticent. These are called antonyms, which are also a useful English language grammatical device to know if you are trying to expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus

  • enlightening
  • sure
  • expectant
  • fearless
  • civil
  • hopeful
  • assured
  • effusive
  • conversational
  • garrulous
  • bold
  • depending on
  • communicative
  • secure
  • certain
  • expecting
  • warm
  • outgoing
  • friendly
  • presuming
  • convinced
  • uppity
  • extrovert
  • unreserved
  • sanguine
  • self-reliant
  • open
  • high
  • self-assured
  • easy
  • unafraid
  • undaunted
  • valiant
  • extroverted
  • counting on
  • upbeat
  • candid
  • courageous
  • sympathetic
  • forthcoming
  • communicable
  • intrepid
  • positive
  • cocksure
  • racked
  • conversable
  • gregarious
  • loquacious
  • genial
  • puffed up
  • unrestrained
  • voluble
  • expansive
  • brave
  • frank
  • demonstrative
  • chatty
  • pushy
  • sociable
  • self-sufficient
  • kind
  • confident
  • satisfied
  • presumptuous
  • trusting
  • informal
  • approachable
  • gushing
  • cordial
  • talkative
  • dauntless
  • bet on
  • unconstrained
  • having faith in

What is the origin of the word reticent?

According to Etymonline, the word reticent has been used since the year 1600. This term comes from the 16th century French rétience, which has its roots in the Latin reticentia and Latin reticēns, meaning silence. This comes from the present participle of reticēre meaning keep silent, from the prefix re and the root tacere, meaning be silent. This was not in common use until after the year 1830. Related words include the noun reticence, the adverb reticently, and the words tacit, tacitly, and taciturn. 

Overall, the word reticent is an adjective that describes a person who is reserved, reluctant, restrained, or uncommunicative. This person is not talkative, and usually keeps to themselves. This may cause others to think that they are aloof or lack communication skills, but some people are more predisposed to be reticent.