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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Hi Teachers,

I’d like to revisit this question, because I found a very interesting post here:

In this article, there is this sentence: He appeared willing, if reluctant, to do so. We know that reluctant means unwilling or disinclined, but how can it be used together with willing to describe a person’s attitude? They contradict each other, don’t they?

Here are more examples I found on the Net.

7)Six is one of my favorite numbers. In fact, it’s my top choice seeing as how I was born on November 6. This affinity began when I was five years old, awaiting my sixth birthday. Unhappily I discovered that the following year, I would not turn 7 on November 7th, but my birthday would always remain on the 6th. So 6 and I came to an early, if reluctant, association.

8)The Kyoto Protocol arose out of this collection of instincts, opinions and science, becoming in itself a talisman of political and economic opportunity wasted. As an early, if reluctant, participant in the Kyoto agreement, Canada, its citizens and its political institutions come under special scrutiny, especially in light of their failure to meet targets.

9)Sisters Jessica and Rachel Clayton once only had each other to rely on, but years of pain have carved a wide chasm between them. But seeing Rachel’s family struggles reaching a breaking point, Jessica–whose career has made her an expert in downsizing and cutting the nonessential out of life–must learn how to let family and love back in, starting with her still-beloved, if reluctant, sibling.

10)This project will concentrate on continental Europe, where religion in the early modern period increasingly divided rather than united. In so doing, it will explore how different ways of listening to sermons demonstrated increasingly different religious, and thereby cultural and national identies. At the same time, it will allow us to examine how different confessions (with their attendant preaching cultures) influenced each other in an age of growing, if reluctant, religious coexistence.

11)A former Navy SEAL and convicted thief must join forces with his reluctant attorney to rescue his kidnapped niece and nephew. Brockmann is known for unstoppable plots, smart heroines, and strong, if reluctant heroes.

12)This handsome (if reluctant) fellow would make a delightful card to send to your most dapper of friends, loved ones or better yet, you can keep him for yourself!

13)It has been used by Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in the Westminster parliament, and – naturally – former UKIP leader and current, if reluctant, member of the European Parliament, Nigel Farage. The latter asserted that the current situation with Brexit is now “the greatest constitutional crisis since the English civil war”.

14)Once again, the stalwart, if reluctant, Jim Hawkins is called in to solve a crime, that threatens to unravel all diplomatic relations between America and these nations, which appear to be preparing for war. But where’s Neverland in all this? Don’t worry, they will stick their noses in there too…

15)The unanimous–if reluctant–vote ended two years of negotiations between Lerner, a California computer and cosmetics multimillionaire, and the county. The sticking point was the opposition of many Upperville residents, who said the character of the village would be ruined by a tavern and restaurant–Lerner’s first proposal for the house–or a deli.

After having read all the examples I found on the Net, I think the phrase “if reluctant” means something like “if it can be said so,” or “arguably.”



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With one exception all your quotes refer to people or organizations who do something reluctantly or unwillingly. You are always free to interpret any phrase any way you like of course.