What is the English word for a person who when they fail and realize their failure, they then regret and quickly correct their own behaviour without any wavering?

Edit: I accepted an answer although the exact word I am looking for has not been found. I will change the answer should one be found.

The closest matches are conscientious, repentant. To express exactly what I am looking for consider the scenario: You have had an argument, then you realize that what you did to your friend is wrong and he was correct. Without any thinking at that very second you run back to your friend saying: "I am sorry I have done wrong." asking for apology. It may take you 2 minutes to correct yourself - maybe you would go over your reasoning a few times to convince a good part of yourself to take over, and you would still be considered repentant and conscientious. But what I mean is a correction without a second thought once you realize you are wrong.

  • Are you asking for a word describing someone else who corrects an action of yours with no warning, having decided that that action was wrong? What are the circumstances? It could be officious or altruistic or anything in between.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 6:00
  • Hmm. Now the question indicates the other possible interpretation. It would be really good if you could categorically state (without using the word one) whether this is now right, or my earlier comment is.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 14:25
  • That's a storybook hero Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 15:46

11 Answers 11


I would choose principled; one who believes in and lives by a set of principles, does not willingly violate those principles without some regret, and self-corrects when necessary.

"adjective: 1(of a person or their behavior) acting in accordance with morality and showing recognition of right and wrong: a principled politician; 2(of a system or method) based on a given set of rules: a coherent and principled approach http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/principled

Your inclusion of regret in your description implies conscience, but the word conscientious is more often used to describe attention to detail and overall thoroughness, and is not appropriate.

  • I do not think your words include in the meaning that the person corrects oneself quickly. Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 14:19

Consider self-policing

a process where individuals or groups provide their own discipline and enforce it without outside help.

While the definition does not specifically convey immediacy, the concept of policing suggests a regular review

to observe or record the activity or enforcement of: a committee was set up to police the new agreement on picketing



  • having strong moral principles and being certain
  • not resting until the job is done and done right
  • being loyal to families, causes, and superiors
  • working hard to do well achieving and accomplishing things
  • loving to work and be challenged
  1. Introspective

  2. Self-correcting

automatically adjusting to or correcting mistakes, malfunctions

This applies more to systems, I think.


A good biblical word is repent (or repentance or repentant).

To repent is to demonstrate your regret for having done something wrong by unhesitatingly doing the right thing.

The word translated as ''repentance'' is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), "after/behind one's mind" . . . [and] the whole compound means: 'to think differently after'. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart", or, "change of consciousness" (from Wikipedia).

Repent is admittedly an old-fashioned word, and most people (I imagine) would feel uncomfortable using it in everyday speech. The word nevertheless describes exactly what you describe.

"He was truly repentant for his actions, and without hesitation he did the right thing."

"His repentant attitude was quite evident by his change in behavior."

John the Baptist: "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance . . .."


resolute -admirably purposeful, determined and unwavering.

Apple dictionary Version 2.2.3 (118.5).

  • Mirroring the comment to the other answer, would you please include any relevant links (e.g. with example) and a link to your (presumably quoted) definition to confirm the validity of your answer?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 13:41
  • You can be resolute, determined and insist on doing evil, similarly your purpose can be sinister. Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 14:21
  • @dt1510 but presumably only admirable to fellow evil-doers.
    – Qube
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 14:28


  • A good answer provides more information than this. We highly welcome reasons, explanation, and reliable sources which make it easier for the OP and the community to evaluate the correctness of the answer.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 4:40

Atone for something a phrasal verb meaning: to do something that shows that you are sorry for something bad that you did: The country's leader has expressed a wish to atone for his actions in the past.

Ask (for someone's) forgiveness the act of excusing a mistake or offense

These two expressions are very similar to repentant which in his edit the OP acknowledged was one of the two answers which came closest in meaning. My suggestions do not consist of one word, but their meanings are, I believe, the one you are looking for.

You have had an argument, then you realize that what you did to your friend was wrong and he was right. Without any thinking at that very second you run back to your friend saying: "I am sorry I have done wrong" asking for his forgiveness/apologizing for your behaviour.

Thus you would say: "I atoned for the bad things I did to you."

Or you could equally say: I ask for your forgiveness for the bad things I did."


The challenge is that the behavior you describe requires two personality characteristics. First the person needs the ability to recognize personal faults. For this I like self-aware and introspective. People who are open, approachable, not defensive, or vulnerable may not notice it on their own but readily take the feedback from others. Lastly they need to be willing to take corrective action, for which I like conscientious, principled, adaptable, and work-in-progress.

I agree no one word so far encompasses both traits.


To mend one's ways

Definition from McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs: to improve one's behavior. Examples: John used to be very wild, but he's mended his ways. You'll have to mend your ways if you go out with Mary. She hates people to be late.

Possibly to redeem one-self

What would be to do one's best to correct the transgressions of the past. Redemption would be the forgiveness attained for past transgressions. While we can not go into the past and prevent what we have done, we can try to correct mistakes as best we can now. Sometimes that may be as simple as an apology for mispoken comments. To be redeemed, you must acknowledge that something was done that should not have been done, and then do what you can to rectify the problem. Source


Sounds like a mix of resilient and self-aware. Resilient being:

recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyant.

And self-aware being:

conscious of one's own feelings, character, etc.

Tenacious also comes to mind, but probably has a more negative connotation than the term the OP is going for.

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