Meaning of the parenthesis "if reluctant"

Dear Teachers,

I came across the phrase of “if reluctant” used as a parenthesis, and I am not able to understand its meaning. I even cannot find it in English dictionaries. Here are 5 examples I found on the net.

1)The tough-guy act is over now that Cohen has turned into a sad, if reluctant, snitch. The public on Wednesday can expect to hear the resigned effect that goes with a 3-year prison sentence for financial crimes and lying to Congress.

2)I’m finding that having kids and pets (the kids aren’t new but the pets are) helps. Both make good, if reluctant, drawing subjects.

3)But make no mistake – 44-year-old Michelle Obama is a savvy, if reluctant, political campaigner, a woman whose elegant air cushions some blunt views, a woman who can switch from doting mother to dynamic speaker at a podium in a blink.

4)The Writer’s Jungle has changed my son’s attitude towards writing. He was a good, if reluctant, writer, and free writing has literally “freed” him, writing-wise.

5)The only things that can be said for certain about Clyde Percheron is that he’s a horse, a decent musician, a good — if reluctant — fighter, a quiet fellow, and he is very large.

6)Eastwood hit on this formula in one of the first films he directed, The Outlaw Josey Wales. In that film a poor farmer in the Missouri Territory becomes a Confederate guerilla when his home is attacked by Union soldiers. Like the protagonist of American Sniper (Chris Kyle) seeing the World Trade Center come down, Josey Wales sees no choice but to take up arms, and in so doing proves to be an unusually good, if reluctant, marksman and killer.

Can someone help me understand what the meaning of “if reluctant” used in the examples above?

Thanks a lot.

Floating Cloud


To me, it could be “if involuntary situation”.
Many thanks to other clarifications from advisors.


It means that although the person has developed a particular skill they are not overly happy to put that skill to use. Please let me know if this makes sense. By the way, welcome to our forum :slight_smile:

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Another meaning is simply ‘although unwilling to do or be something’.


Thank you Thanh_Tran, Torsten, and Alan for your replies. It is still not clear to me.

In this example:

2)I’m finding that having kids and pets (the kids aren’t new but the pets are) helps. Both make good, if reluctant , drawing subjects.

Does it mean that the kids and pets are reluctant to be used as drawing subjects? It doesn’t seem logical to me. Kids and pets might be running around, or might be staying at one place, but they won’t know that they are being used as drawing subjects.

All the 6 examples seem making sense to me if “if reluctant” was replaced with “if you will”, and in this case the writers of the 6 paragraphs would be seemingly trying to say that “if you allow me to describe the situation in this way, then I would say …”

However “if reluctant” and “if you will” seem meaning the opposite, which leads me to think that “if reluctant” might be used as a humorous way to say “if you will.” Well I am not sure though, it is only my guessing.

What do you think?

Many thanks.


Exactly, since both kids as well as pets don’t like to be sitting still for a longer period of time they are unwilling to be good drawing subjects.

As for ‘if you will’ it is another phrase that adds politeness as in ‘Please step aside, if you will’.

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