What is the difference between shy and ashamed as in the following example?

He is not shy to tell the truth.
He is not ashamed to tell the truth.

  • I'd rather say: "He's not shy of telling the truth." – Jimi Oke May 22 '11 at 22:08
  • Another near synonym is bashful but I'm not sure it works in this sentence. – hippietrail May 23 '11 at 1:49

There is a big difference. To be shy means timid and reserved in the company of others, while ashamed means to feel a sense of shame about oneself or something one did.


shy 1 | sh ī| adjective ( shyer , shyest ) 1 being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people : I was pretty shy at school | a shy smile. • [ predic. ] ( shy about) slow or reluctant to do (something) : she has never been shy about discussing her efforts to raise aesthetic standards. • [in combination ] having a dislike of or aversion to a specified thing : they were a little camera-shy.

ashamed |əˈ sh āmd| adjective [ predic. ] embarrassed or feeling guilt because of something one has done or a characteristic one has : you should be ashamed of yourself | [with clause ] she felt ashamed that she had hit him.

  • @Robusto: I doubt many of the (relatively few) usages of not shy to are specifically trying to make that distinction. You might want to clarify which version is actually used overwhelmingly more often... ngrams.googlelabs.com/… – FumbleFingers May 22 '11 at 21:06
  • @FumbleFingers: Good point. I didn't grab enough text with my C&P. Editing to add more cases in the first entry. – Robusto May 22 '11 at 21:19
  • @Robusto: Well you've certainly got the full gamut there now. But it's still the case that for OP's apparent context, shy would be an uncommon choice. I don't know what you think, but I have a definite sense that somehow ashamed can be negated more naturally than shy. – FumbleFingers May 22 '11 at 23:11
  • ...just dawned on me that it's bordering on impossible to use the positive - as in is shy to. There's no such problem with is ashamed to. – FumbleFingers May 22 '11 at 23:14
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers, two notes that I am sure you are aware of, but casual reader might not be: 1) using ngrams to compare phrases whose usage differs can be misleading as different context can be much more represented in chosen corpus 2) phrases that are used more rarely are either awkward or, if used at the right place, are more pleasing (also, here's an example of positive in Merriam-Webster books.google.com/… ) – Unreason May 23 '11 at 10:58

"...shy to tell the truth", doesn't seem right to me. I'd be more inclined to use, "...shy about telling the truth". I think that also makes the difference between "shy" and "ashamed" a little more clear too.

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