The official definition of demure is: "reserved, modest, and shy."

But does it also imply submissiveness?

  • 1
    Maybe you could have a look, and then tell us?
    – J.R.
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 21:03
  • @JR Well, dictionary definitions are not always clear on connotations.
    – Jay
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 22:11
  • @Jay: True enough, which is why I linked to Wordnik, where, with just a few clicks and a little bit of scrolling, one can find dozens of examples of the word used in contemporary contexts, plus lists of synonyms, equivalent words, and reverse dictionary hits. Incidentally, the word "submissive" was conspicuously absent from the page. Moreover, the word "demure" doesn't get a mention on Wordnik's submissive page, either.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 2:04
  • I don't find 'demure' to have the connotation of shy. It's not outgoing, just not shy. Quiet and understated. Also, wears velvet dresses.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


Demure used on its own doesn't necessarily imply submissive. Dictionary.com fails to list submissive as a direct synonym, although it does cite words such as timid, unassertive and constrained. Demure can be used by itself to imply a certain kind of affect that is far from submissive. Wordnet links demure with coy and overmodest (affectedly modest or shy especially in a playful or provocative way).

Authors are inclined to use both demure and submissive together to convey a mix of traits. Wordnik, noted above, cites this passage from Never Come Down: "'Demure' and 'submissive' were not words in her vocabulary, thus making her very nearly the opposite of the feminine ideal of her day.” Lady Chatterley's Lover has this passage: "A man of her own class he would not mind, for Connie was gifted from nature with this appearance of demure, submissive maidenliness, and perhaps it was part of her nature."


I think the OED does a really good job of explaining the adjective "demure." I chose the most illustrative examples.

I don't think demure in sense 2 has any negative connotations. However, demure used in sense 3 clearly suggests unnaturalness.

2.Of persons (and their bearing, speech, etc.): Sober, grave, serious; reserved or composed in demeanour.

1523 J. Skelton Goodly Garlande of Laurell 902 Demure Diana, womanly and sad.

3.Affectedly or constrainedly grave or decorous; serious, reserved, or coy in a way that is not natural to the person or to one of his years or condition [emphasis mine - Alex B.]

a1692 T. Shadwell Volunteers (1693) iii. i. 25 This Gentleman, and his demure Psalm-singing Fellows.

I don't think that the idea of submissiveness is present in demure.


A submissive person is generally obedient and does what they're told to do.

A demure lady could be reserved, modest and shy but still say no - and in the days when ladies were more demure than they are now, would have been expected to do so for certain situations!

  • Would the downvoter care to comment on why this answer isn't useful?
    – Lunivore
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 16:15

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