The Grammarphobia Blog

Reluctant vs. reticent

Q: I wonder if you’d comment on the misuse of “reticent” when the speaker means “reluctant.” Don’t you think we should preserve the distinction between these two words?

A: I share your concern about “reluctant” and “reticent,” and I think it’s important to preserve the distinction. In fact, I added them to the second edition of my grammar book Woe Is I. I hate to see two such valuable words ride off into the sunset!

Reluctant” means unwilling while “reticent” means silent. “Reluctant” comes from a Latin word that means to struggle. “Reticent” comes from a Latin word meaning to keep silent; the same Latin word gives us “taciturn” (uncommunicative) and “tacit” (unspoken).