The Dictionary definitions are below:

Modest = not excessively large, elaborate, or expensive.

Decent = appropriate; fitting

Please consider below sentences

He has a modest three bedroom house.

She is a very modest woman.

Can I replace the modest with decent in the above sentences? If not what is the difference between usage of decent and modest

He has a decent three bedroom house.

She is a very decent woman.

I have been observed there is some overlap between these two words. My question is how much overlap is there between these two? Are these are interchangeable always?

  • 1
    You should include the definitions of decent and modest in your question, so that someone else won't have to copy-and-paste those definitions into an answer. Several good online dictionaries exist; I recommend starting with OneLook.
    – J.R.
    Dec 13, 2012 at 16:00
  • All four sentences are ungrammatical. All four are missing an article, and the first and third use an unnatural adjective order.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 13, 2012 at 16:04
  • @RegDwighт how is the order unnatural? "decent three bedroom house" sounds fine to me.
    – mac389
    Dec 13, 2012 at 20:53
  • 1
    @mac pay attention to the edit history. The examples have been changed since my comment, precisely to fix the very mistakes I was talking about.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 13, 2012 at 21:17
  • @J.R.: I understand that you think this question is too basic. However there is an overlap between decent and modest. I would like to know about that. Can you please consider for reopen it. If not please let me know your valuable suggestions.
    – Hanu
    Dec 14, 2012 at 13:50

3 Answers 3


Modest and decent have overlapping semantic ranges. They can mean the same thing, but do not always. To further confuse things, they might get used in the same situation to highlight slightly different aspects of a thing.

Modest can mean behaving in a way that does not draw attention to oneself, of which clothed in such a way that it conforms with sexual norms is a specific case. It can also mean simple because simple things do not draw attention to themselves. From simple, the related meaning of not wealthy or not opulent emerges.

Decent can mean meeting expectations without having the connotation of exceeding them. It can also mean a morally good person, though not necessarily a heroic or saintly person.

Here we have the area where the two meanings overlap: they both imply good in a way that does not attract too much attention. But they are not always interchangeable.

So as to your sentences, I believe the average American reader would consider the sentences about the house to be more or less equivalent. The average American, though, would sense a slight difference in the sentences about the woman, because "decent" is a broader category than "modest". A woman might dress modestly, but lie, cheat, and gossip, none of her acquaintances would call her "decent".

  • "She was a very modest woman" implies nothing whatsoever about her dress. A close synonym of modest in this particular context would be shy.
    – Marthaª
    Dec 17, 2012 at 22:59
  • @Marthaª, Merriam-Webster disagrees: mod·est [mod-ist] adjective 1. having or showing a moderate or humble estimate of one's merits, importance, etc.; free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions. 2. free from ostentation or showy extravagance: a modest house. 3. having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.; decent: a modest neckline on a dress. 4. limited or moderate in amount, extent, etc.: a modest increase in salary.
    – Ryan Haber
    Dec 19, 2012 at 21:38
  • The sentence itself gives no context. Except to compare the word modest to decent, and ask whether the comparison is appropriate.
    – Ryan Haber
    Dec 19, 2012 at 21:39

The second set of sentences reads completely different to using "modest." A decent house is a pretty good house. A modest house is a bare essentials house. A decent woman doesn't sleep around or go to the pub to cohort with the lewd. A modest woman is not glamorous.

  • Well, maybe "an exhibitionist" is preferable to "glamorous", which means "exceedingly attractive" rather than "flashy/ostentatious/showy".
    – user21497
    Dec 24, 2012 at 7:23

You can replace modest with decent. It will be still meaningful. How ever the meaning of the sentence changes subtly.

Modest basically implies to personality or trait. For example A person who has power, wealth and successful. And he might still be modest. It is his nature. And in another example, the house even though it is three bedroom, it is still modest. Means three bedroom is a bit above the standards and considered as lavish and luxurious. How ever this three bedroom house is modest and not lavish.

Decent belongs to more appearance and showing. A person is decent means his clothing, the way he talks and behaves are socially acceptable and satisfactory. But his nature might be below the belt. A house might studio bed room. How ever the way it is constructed and arrange the things make it decent.

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