by Liz Walter
Self-confidence, the belief that you can do things well and that other people respect you, is an important feature of a happy and successful life. However, it is noticeable that most of us dislike arrogant people (people who have too much self-confidence) and much prefer modest behaviour, when people don’t boast about their own achievements or abilities.
English has a lot of vocabulary to describe levels of confidence, and this post looks at some of the most useful words we use.
We will start at the positive end of the scale. Someone who is poised, self-possessed, or self-assured is confident and relaxed even in situations that other people might find difficult, while someone who is assertive is able to express opinions and ask for what they want in a way that is forceful but not rude:
He was a remarkably self-possessed child.
In her role as manager, she was brisk and assertive.
His urbane charm makes him the perfect guest.
She was taken in by his suave manner.
Modest or humble people may have lots of good qualities but they don’t boast about them. Someone who is self-effacing or unassuming tries not to be noticed very much, while a self-deprecating person tries to make their own achievements and qualities seem less impressive:
For such a great musician, he is amazingly modest.
She was a quiet, self-effacing woman, who ran the household with great efficiency.
We all appreciated his self-deprecating wit.
At the other end of the scale there are lots of disapproving words for people who are too confident. People with a high opinion of their own abilities can be described as conceited or self-important. If this is combined with a very serious manner, we often say they are pompous:
It’s rather conceited to describe yourself as ‘gifted’.
He gave a rather pompous speech.
More informal words include big-headed and cocky, while people who act as though they are better or more intelligent than the people they are talking to may be described as patronizing or condescending:
He’s too big-headed to admit he could be wrong.
She gave a cocky wave as she drove past.
His attitude towards his neighbours was extremely patronizing.
As always, there are a lot more words to describe negative characteristics than positive ones! So many, in fact, that my next post will be entirely devoted to a colourful range of phrases to describe arrogant people and their behaviour.