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"It's Nothing, Really." Modesty in English (Phrases and Quotes)

"It's Nothing, Really." Modesty in English (Phrases and Quotes)

It's nice to get positive attention because of skills, accomplishments or even looks. However, most people are careful to not appear arrogant, or overly confident. There are a few simple English phrases you can use when you want to reduce or avoid attention you receive.

After introducing these phrases, we will take a look at some related vocabulary and a short list of quotes related to modesty. Read on to learn more!

What is modesty?

Merriam-Webster defines "modesty" as "the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities." Modest people do not brag about themselves, what they have or what they can do.

If you don't want to appear too confident, try using one of the phrases introduced below.

Common phrases

I dabble.

A man cutting vegetables on a cutting board in his kitchen

“Dabble” is an informal word that means to do something lightly or not seriously. It’s often used when someone wants to suggest that they are not very skilled at something — even if that isn't completely true.

Do you cook?
Well, I dabble a bit.
I dabble in photography, but I’m not great at it.

You’re too kind.

You can use this short phrase after receiving a compliment. It has a slightly formal feeling and is sometimes used in a joking way.

You look great tonight.
You’re too kind.
Thank you for the applause, everyone. You're too kind.

I do OK. / I’m comfortable.

These phrases are common when someone wants to avoid speaking about money or salaries directly.

Do you make a lot of money at your new job?
I do OK.

It’s nothing (really).

This is a classic modest response to praise. However, you need to be careful; the other person may misunderstand and think you are saying that something was easy for you to do. Adding “really” helps this to sound more genuinely modest.

Your piano performance was very good.
Thank you, but it was nothing, really.

While these phrases are useful for taking some attention away from yourself, remember that your body language, expression and tone of voice also communicate to the people around you.

If you use these expressions without really meaning them, it may seem like false modesty, so be sure to use them carefully.

Related vocabulary


A woman in simple, stylish clothes standing against a white wall

Don't forget that you can also use the adjective "modest" to describe people, spaces or things like fashion that are not flashy or attempt to attract attention.

They have a cozy, modest home on the edge of the town.
Jesse has a modest sense of style, so I can't imagine her wearing brightly colored clothes or wild designs.


"Humble" is an adjective meaning "not thinking too highly of one's own achievements, qualities, etc."

Even after a long and very successful career, she has remained humble.

The noun version is "humility."

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.

C.S. Lewis (UK writer and scholar)

Down-to-earth / Grounded

Arrogant people and daydreamers may spend a lot of time believing or thinking about ideas that may not actually be true. People who are grounded or down-to-earth, however, think more practically and realistically.

Both of these terms are often used for people who are successful in some way but are still modest.

He was down-to-earth and very easy to talk to.
It's rare to meet celebrities who are still grounded even after years in the entertainment industry.

Play up/down

A man in a business suit talking to a group of reporters holding microphones

When you "play something up," you are trying to enhance its appeal or others’ interest in it. For example, companies want to play up their products to customers, and politicians want to play up themselves to voters.

The politician took advantage of the opportunity to play himself up in front of the TV cameras.

The opposite of this expression is “play down.” It means to make something seem less important than it actually may be.

Although he’s very successful, he always plays down his achievements. 

Like the example above, it can be used for modesty but also for information people want to keep secret.

After winning the lottery, Joe tried to play down how much his life had changed.

Quotes on modesty

We’ll end this article on modesty by sharing a few related quotes from well-known and historical people. We hope you can find something useful or interesting among them.

"It’s far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help."

Judith Martin (US writer and etiquette expert)

"He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good."

Confucius (Chinese philosopher)

"Modesty should be typical of the success of a champion."

Major Taylor (US cyclist and writer)

"Let us be absolutely clear about one thing: we must not confuse humility with false modesty. …"

Paulo Coelho (Brazilian novelist)

"False modesty can be worse than arrogance."

David Mitchell (UK novelist and screenwriter)

"Modesty and unselfishness: these are the virtues which men praise — and pass by."

André Maurois (French author)


Modesty is a tricky thing: having too much or too little of it can be negative. In the end, everyone has their own unique personality. Regardless, hopefully this article has prepared you to speak about it with a little more confidence — but not too much!