Confident vs. Confidant

By Maeve Maddox

A reader declares,

One of the grammatical errors I’m seeing more and more is confusion between “confident” and “confidant(e)” Could you cover that?

On the simplest level, several English adjectives that end in -ent are frequently misspelled with an -ant ending, for example:

absorbent
ambivalent
antecedent
imminent
incumbent
independent
virulent

Writers who misspell confident as confidant may be pronouncing confident correctly, but have merely failed to learn to spell it correctly.

Writers who misspell confident as confidante have a tin ear.

Confident is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: CON-fi-dent. The e of the last syllable is the short sound of e, as in rent.

The pronunciation of confidant is not so straightforward. Charles Elster notes that the older pronunciation with the stress on the first syllable is still listed in some current dictionaries, but “is now defunct or close to it.” Modern pronunciation places the stress on the first syllable, but not everyone pronounces the final syllable with the same vowel sound. For example, in the first pronunciation given in both OED and Merriam-Webster, the a in dant has the sound of a in father. In the second pronunciation given in both dictionaries, the a in dant has the short a sound, as in pant. Nevertheless, either pronunciation, “con-fi-dahnt” or “con-fi-dant,” provides a clue that confidant is not spelled the same as confident.

Confidante is the feminine spelling of confidant (same pronunciation). Some style guides recommend the use of only confidant, on the grounds that the feminine spelling confidante is “a needless distinction between males and females.” It seems to me that if we are going to spell the noun differently from the adjective, we ought to spell it confidante to make it as different as possible for the spelling-challenged.

Before the adjective confident and the noun confidant, we had the verb confide.

Confide entered English in the mid-1400s from the Latin verb confidere: “to trust in, rely firmly upon, believe.” The meaning of the English verb was “to trust or have faith.” In the 1700s, confide took on the meaning “to share a secret with.” The phrase “to confide in (someone)” came into use in 1888.

The adjective confident, “self-reliant, sure of oneself,” dates from the 1570s.

In the early 1600s, confident came to be used as a noun meaning: “trusty friend or adherent; one in whom one confides; a confidential friend.” This, of course, is the modern meaning of confidant.

The pronunciation with the accent on the last syllable [kahn-fee-DAHNT], developed after the 1700s, probably in imitation of the pronunciation of the French words confident and confidente; the spelling confidant followed in order to reflect the different pronunciation.

The earliest example in the OED of the spelling confidant for the noun is 1751. The latest example of the spelling confident as a noun is 1867. Since then, the standard spelling of the adjective has been confident, and the spelling confidant has been standard for the noun. English speakers have had 147 years to get the spellings straight.

Perhaps the best-known use of the word confidant occurs in the theme song for the television comedy series The Golden Girls:

Thank you for being a friend,
Travelling down a road and back again.
Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant.

Even if we drop the spelling confidante for “trusted friend,” confidante remains as a furniture term. A confidante is a piece of furniture that connects two chairs on an s-plan. One friend sits on one side and the other on the opposite side–the perfect setup for whispering.

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7 Responses to “Confident vs. Confidant”

  • ellie

    you wrote:

    [A confidante is a piece of furniture that connects two chairs on an s-plan. One friend sits on one side and the other on the opposite side]

    Is a confidante a gadget that “connects” two chairs, or, is it the whole piece of two-seated furniture?

    thanks!

  • Andy Knoedler

    Sorry, but both confidant and confidante are pronounced with the stress on the first syllable — and on both sides of the Atlantic. (However, they can be spoken with equal stress on opening and closing syllables.)

  • Artie

    Andy – As far as I’m concerned, Maeve is correct regarding the stress.

  • thebluebird11

    If people would pronounce things correctly, they would be much less likely to confuse these two words.

    I have heard the word confidant/e pronounced with stress on the first syllable and on the last syllable, so perhaps either is correct. If one stays true to the French pronunciation of confidant/e, one stresses the last syllable, and if one pronounced it correctly, one would never misspell it. It certainly does not sound at all like the -ent ending of confident, and whether you stress the first or the last syllable, the “a” in “dant/e” is NEVER pronounced to rhyme with “pant”; It rhymes with “want.”

    As far as the masculine and feminine versions (i.e. without the final E or with the final E), in French the final T would not be pronounced for masculine (con-fee-DAHN). For the feminine, it WOULD be pronounced because there is an E after it.

    I think it is probably more tradition than true usefulness that keeps the “e” at the end to distinguish masculine from feminine, like fiance/fiancee and many other words. I much prefer this little tip of the hat to the genders than the clumsiness of English that at times bends over backwards to differentiate between genders by putting things like “-woman” or “-ess” at the end (e.g. congresswoman, waitress), or completely throws up its hands and serves up things like “aviatrix.” Somehow we have male and female doctors, librarians, dancers and singers, secretaries and administrative assistants, nurses and plumbers. We have not had to create gender-specific versions for these occupations. Thank goodness!

  • venqax

    True. Confidant has A stress on the last syllable; as well as the first.

  • Maeve

    To all who remarked on the “stress on the last syllable” remark in the post. This is a case of my own pronunciation being behind the times. An adjustment is on the way.

  • Maeve

    Ellie,
    It’s the entire piece of furniture. Here’s a link to the photo of a very pretty one:
    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/95056/Wooden-S-shaped-confidante-lacquered-in-red-and-gold-second

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