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. Apr 13, 2012 at 5:59
  • Don't be so modest @Optimal Cynic.
    – thomj1332
    Aug 14, 2017 at 13:24
  • Voting to close this decade-old question as it never looked the two words up in a dictionary, and is attracting a slew of answers that don't either. Feb 23, 2022 at 20:49
  • 1
    @AndyBonner Are you not applying today’s rules to the past? You should critique the answer you find inadequate, not the entire Q&A.
    – Xanne
    Feb 24, 2022 at 1:18
  • The purpose of closing is to prevent out-of-place questions from being answered. It is not clear what would be accomplished by closing a question that already has seven answers and has been seen 114K times.
    – jsw29
    Feb 24, 2022 at 16:57

6 Answers 6


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. Apr 13, 2012 at 6:55
  • Yes, very nice, succinct answer that cuts to the chase. Apr 13, 2012 at 7:48
  • Humble can of course refer to behavior. One definition is "having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance".
    – Andy
    Feb 26, 2017 at 15:31
  • so basically when I want to address someone and say, e.g." I really appreciate you being this modest" as opposed to saying "I really appreciate you being this humble " right? Should we only use humble for ourselves? and modest for others?
    – Hossein
    Nov 30, 2017 at 17:12

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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    You and Raissa need to get together and work this out. Which of you is right? Feb 14, 2015 at 15:00

The studies are part of a push to define humility, a concept more typically associated less with science than religion. (In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says, "I am gentle and humble in heart.”) While research on narcissism—arguably the inverse of humility—has gained widespread attention, it’s been harder to define and measure humility. Researchers do agree that it isn’t just another word for modesty. A person who brushes off compliments isn't necessarily helpful, generous, respectful during conflicts, or accepting of criticism—all traits we can expect of the humble.

According to one model, the humble see their strengths and weaknesses accurately, and are inclined to altruism. Such people would be apt to treat romantic partners well, and to act in ways that support their bond. With that model in mind, a team led by Daryl Van Tongeren conducted three studies to test whether participants valued humility in a potential date and were more inclined to forgive a partner they perceived as humble.

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    So humble means <accept criticism> plus <may or may not accept compliment>. Modest means <not accept compliment> plus <may or may not accept criticism>. If you accept neither criticism nor compliment, you are modest but not humble.
    – Pacerier
    May 23, 2017 at 20:04

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. Apr 13, 2012 at 6:24

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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    I'd see 'modest' as meaning poor to the extent that humble does — people would often say "from a modest background" (like with "from humble beginnings") to mean "not well off". Aug 14, 2017 at 19:34
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    Yes, it's a close call. I am just referring to the frequency that I have heard/read one over the other for the same definition. Aug 23, 2017 at 8:54

'He is modest.' = He does not want to talk about his abilities or achievements. He is not boastful.

'He is humble.'= He believes that he is not more important, better, or cleverer than other people. He does not want to be treated in a special way.

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