Confidant vs. Confident: How to Choose the Right Word

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Don't confuse the noun "confidant" with the adjective "confident." The term "confidant" refers to a person (usually a trusted friend, family member, or associate) to whom secrets or private matters are freely disclosed. The adjective "confident" means certain, bold, or self-assured.

How to Use "Confidant"

"Confidant," derived from the Latin word confidere meaning "to confide," often refers to a person you trust. Betty Berzon, in her 2002 book "Surviving Madness," gave a perfect example of the proper use of "confidant":

"He was my soul mate, my confidant, my hedge against loneliness. I needed him. I felt lost without him."

Berson's use dives into the use of "confidant" to describe a soul mate—a concept that may not have existed at the time of the Romans but is somewhat common in the modern English language. A "confidant," then, is not just a person you can trust, but an individual upon whom you can rely in the direst of circumstances, and one with whom you feel deep kinship and connection.

How to Use "Confident"

The term "confident" also harkens back to the Latin root confidere, but this term refers to a sense of being absolutely sure of something rather than sure of someone (a confidant). Joseph E. Persico, in "Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life," uses an illustrative example of the term in this passage:

"Eleanor began to shed her timidity. On her honeymoon in Switzerland, she had feared scaling the peaks and watched as Franklin marched off with a glamorous hat maker. Now she hiked mountains with long, confident strides, outpacing everyone else."

Here, Persico describes Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, as being at first timid (the opposite of "confident") early in her marriage to the president. But after seeing her new husband leave with another person, she grew courageous and "hiked the mountains" in "confident strides," exhibiting a sureness in her actions and movements.

Examples

The following examples help illustrate how and when to use the words "confident" and "confidant."

  • "She was confident that her mother, her closest confidant, would not share her secrets." In this example, "confident" means sure or certain; that is, "She was certain that her mother ... would not share her secrets." In the second part of the sentence, "confidant" means a friend or close ally, indicating that she is close to her mother and often confides in her.
  • "He's confident in his ability to do the job. As his closest confidant, she told him otherwise." In this case, the subject is sure that he can do the job; he is "confident" that he has the needed skills. However, she, as his closest friend or ally, set him straight and told him that he did not possess the needed prerequisites.
  • "The pitcher was confident that she would be able to strike out the last batter and win the game for her team." In this sentence, the pitcher was sure of herself; she was "confident," or certain of her ability, to throw that last strike.
  • "They were the closest of friends, confidants who were inseparable almost from birth." In this case, the two individuals in question were "confidants"—the closest of allies or friends—from their earliest years.

How to Remember the Difference

John Seely, in "Oxford Guide to Effective Writing and Speaking," explained a simple spelling trick to remember the difference between "confidant" and "confident," when he wrote:

"Confidant(e)/Confident. As with all words ending with ant/ent, the former is a noun and the latter an adjective: He was so confident, he did not need a confidant in whom to confide his fears."

Seely meant that you can use the endings of the terms "ant" vs. "ent" to prevent yourself from mixing them up. The "ant" ending in "confidant" might remind you of an "aunt," a close family member you can trust. "Confident," on the other hand, has an "e" in it, which can signal to you that this is a word used to describe an emotion.

The Disuse of "Confidante"

Previously, a distinction was made between "confidant" to describe a male friend or ally and "confidante," which referred to a female. However, "confidante" has been discontinued in U.S. English. The Associated Press style guide, which governs usage in many U.S. newspapers and publications, says not to use "confidante" but to use "confidant" for any individual.

Sources

  • Berzon, Betty. Surviving Madness: the Betty Berzon Story. Spinsters Ink, 2011.
  • Confidant vs. Confident vs. Confidante: What's The Difference?” Merriam-Webster.
  • Garner, Bryan A. Garners Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Persico, Joseph E. Franklin and Lucy: Mrs. Rutherfurd and the Other Remarkable Women in Roosevelt's Life. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009.
  • Powers, J.F. "Death of a Favorite." The New Yorker, 10 Nov. 1951.
  • Seely, John. The Oxford Guide to Effective Writing and Speaking: How to Communicate Clearly. Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • The Confidant As A Literary Device.” Writers Write. 5 Mar. 2021.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Confidant vs. Confident: How to Choose the Right Word." ThoughtCo, Jun. 28, 2021, thoughtco.com/confidant-and-confident-1689351. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, June 28). Confidant vs. Confident: How to Choose the Right Word. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/confidant-and-confident-1689351 Nordquist, Richard. "Confidant vs. Confident: How to Choose the Right Word." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/confidant-and-confident-1689351 (accessed August 4, 2021).