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What is the difference between humble and modest? I saw one difference here. Is that true? Any other difference?

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I intend to have "humble" carved on my statue after I'm gone. –  Optimal Cynic Apr 13 '12 at 5:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Modest describes the personality trait or behaviour of not flaunting oneself, talking oneself up or putting oneself on display. Modest behaviour can be a response to compliments, praise or follow an achievement. Modesty can also manifested physically (for example, "dressing modestly", "modest accessories", "modest smile").

In contrast, "humble" refers specifically to a person's inner state and feelings. A humble person is willing to accept or respect another's authority, intellect and wisdom, or superiority without trying to challenge it or trying to assert oneself.

In summary, being modest refers to your behaviour, being humble refers to your ego.

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Fantastic answer; while the words can obviously mean other things (as described in other answers), the "behavior" vs "innate quality" difference is crucial when deciding which word to use IMO. –  Milind Ganjoo Apr 13 '12 at 6:55
Yes, very nice, succinct answer that cuts to the chase. –  Amos M. Carpenter Apr 13 '12 at 7:48

Modest refers to a person's opinion of themselves.

Humble refers to a person's behavior with respect to others.

A person is modest when they do not boast or brag and when they tend to downplay their own abilities.

A person is humble when they show deference and a willingness to submit to others.

They often go hand-in-hand, but do not have to.

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Modest does not mean poor, but humble does.

For example: You can wear humble clothes that are old and cheap, which make you stick out like a sore thumb at a royal wedding; or, you can wear modest clothes that make you fit in and not stand out at a royal wedding.

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When one is modest, they have a moderate view of their own abilities. That is, they are not necessarily undervaluing themselves, but they would never overvalue.

When one is humble, they have a low view of their own abilities. They will always view themselves as weak in that area, even if they are not.

"Modest" is generally more suited to describe someone with a level-headed and accurate view of themselves, whereas "humble" is for one that is lower than it should be (to humble someone is to lower their own sense of value), though there is certainly a great deal of cross-over in modern usage of the two words.

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Sorry, -1. I agree that the verb "humble" implies lowering someone's self-esteem (thus carrying a negative connotation); however, the concept of humility (and its associated adjective, which is what the OP asked about) is seen as a virtue in many societies. As @Raissa points out, it reflects a personality type that is not pretentious and is able to respect other opinions, irrespective of one's self-belief. Similarly, modesty does not necessarily stem from a moderate view of oneself. Modesty can be faked, which means one can hold themselves in high esteem while still appearing modest. –  Milind Ganjoo Apr 13 '12 at 6:24

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