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Of course we all know that it is a subtle difference between confidence and self-confidence. But I could not find the question asked (let alone answered) on various sites before; hence I am asking this question.

I am not talking about confidence in others as in "she had great confidence in her mother" or"he had implicit confidence in the bureaucracy", but where confidence obviously refers to self.

Random Examples:

  • She played the violin with great confidence.
  • He batted with tremendous confidence though it was his first Test match.
  • We must always approach life with confidence.
  • The management course helped them to develop leadership skills and self-confidence.
  • It was a measure of his self-confidence that he left the job before finding another.
  • He was very impressed with her boldness and self-confidence.

My question is whether we could use confidence and self-confidence interchangeably wherever confidence obviously refers to self and not others? If not, what is the 'fine difference'?

  • I believe that you ~do~ things with confidence, but your self-confidence might allow you to do things. Like: "A self-confident student volunteered to take the stage and swung the fake sword with confidence" I'd imagine that the self-confidence allowed them to walk up without trembling, greet the politely... not drop the sword when handed to them etc...but what made the swing itself look confident had to do with the smoothness of the swing, the steady acceleration vs jerkiness etc. The swing was confident, the person self-confident. – Tom22 Apr 16 '17 at 2:27
  • While I don't think you would play a violin with 'self-confidence', I believe that there are times where you could omit the "self" even when talking about a person's inherent nature. – Tom22 Apr 16 '17 at 2:31
  • So you mean to say that 'confidence' is the attribute of an 'action' while 'self-confidence' is the attribute of a 'person' -- thank you for making the fine difference! – English Student Apr 16 '17 at 18:41
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Self-confidence is usually related to self-esteem. It is usually put in the context of:

  • My self-confidence began to grow.

It is oft-stated in the 1st person. Confidence and self-confidence could theoretically work in 1st person.

  • My self-confidence began to grow.
  • My confidence began to grow.

A fine difference would be that when using 'confidence' by itself, ambiguity can arise as to what the confidence is aimed at (whether it be you or another person that has been mentioned).

  • Yes, I found many definitions connecting self-confidence to self esteem. Thanks a lot! – English Student Apr 16 '17 at 18:42
  • When I was a kid (a very long time ago, it's true), 'self esteem' was unknown. The phrase then was 'self respect'. I think the language is poorer for the substitution. As for 'played the violin with great confidence', I'd suggest that 'authority' may be the more appropriate & descriptive word. – Glasseyed Apr 16 '17 at 22:46
  • 1.Self-respect is a classical concept in every language, but I think self-esteem is a relatively new word coined by psychologists (as in 'low self-esteem') 2. Authority is indeed the right word in context, assuming she is well versed in the theory and practise of playing the violin, and also very familiar with the musical piece, which she is therefore playing 'with authority' -- in India, however, students often start out with more confidence than authority, confidence being taken as a measure of future potential, and that native confidence often leads them eventually to 'play with authority!' – English Student Apr 17 '17 at 23:37
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Self-confidence is you believe in your self to be able to learn, confidence comes and is acquired after long practicing.

  • Thanks for making a clear difference @Gerald Mazzarella. It is very true as applied to learning, especially a skill or art. Could you please elaborate on your theme and create a more detailed answer? – English Student Jul 18 '18 at 18:19
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A good friend gave me this answer today: "In general, 'confidence' can be understood to be "confidence in something" which could also be confidence in one's own abilities or attributes -- but 'self confidence' (literally translated with the same meaning in the standard expressions 'aatma-vishwaasam' in Malayalam, 'than-nambikkai' in Tamil and 'atma-vishwaas' in North Indian languages) means specifically "confidence in oneself," directly related to 'self-assurance' and 'self-belief,' in terms of being a source of inner strength and conviction, especially giving oneself the confidence to overcome obstacles and achieve goals." I found two direct references to this sense of the term in the book "India: a Million Mutinies Now" by Nobel laureate Sir V.S. Naipaul, and these references also give the Indian equivalent term for self-confidence as "atma-vishwaas." This, taken together with the other 2 answers given by kind members here, does seem to make a useful distinction between the two expressions. I would, of course, welcome more answers and interpretations from all!

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