'Soft Spoken' Definition: What Does It Mean?

By Sophia Merton, updated on October 6, 2022

Some figures of speech and idioms like ‘leave the door open’ or ‘canary in a coal mine' have meanings you might not expect. However, the ‘soft-spoken’ definition is fairly straightforward, with various reputable sources describing the word as meaning some variation of ‘having a quiet, gentle, or pleasant voice or manner.’

Let’s take a look at what ‘soft spoken’ means, some example sentences, and more.

‘Soft Spoken’ Definition

If someone is soft-spoken, it means that their speaking voice is generally quiet, pleasant, gentle, or mild.

At WritingTips.org, we rely on time-tested and reputable dictionaries rather than newer, less trustworthy online sources. According to some of the most authoritative voices on the English language, the definition of ‘soft spoken’ is:

  • Merriam-Webster: adjective, having a mild or gentle voice
  • The Britannica Dictionary: adjective, having a gentle, quiet voice or manner 
  • The Cambridge Dictionary: adjective, having a quiet, pleasant voice

As you can see, the term ‘soft-spoken’ can refer to a person’s speaking voice or to the overall manner in which a person carries themselves. You could say that someone is ‘soft-spoken’ when the volume of their speaking voice is quite low. At the same time, the term can also imply hints about a person’s character, such as being more reserved, gentle, and pleasant.

Synonyms and Antonyms of Soft-Spoken

Sometimes, we can get a clearer sense of how to use a term when we run into common synonyms and antonyms.

Some common synonyms and related words for ‘soft spoken’ include:

  • Gentle
  • Reserved
  • Polite
  • Respectful
  • Considerate
  • Well-mannered
  • Well-behaved
  • Well-spoken
  • Modest
  • Sheepish
  • Timid
  • Peaceful
  • Composed
  • Aloof
  • Introverted
  • Serene
  • Quiet
  • Retrained
  • Shy
  • Withdrawn

Some words that describe the opposite of being ‘soft spoken’ include:

  • Extroverted
  • Agitated
  • Excited
  • Confidant
  • Outgoing
  • Gregarious

Is It ‘Soft Spoken’ or ‘Soft-Spoken’?

In all of the dictionary definitions listed above, the term ‘soft spoken’ is actually written ‘soft-spoken.’

In general, when there are two or more words functioning together as an adjective and preceding a noun that they’re describing, you will want to use a hyphen. Considering that the most authoritative dictionaries spell ‘soft spoken’ as ‘soft-spoken,’ following the advice of the pros is the best bet.

Examples of ‘Soft-Spoken’ a Sentences

Sometimes, the best way to understand the definition of a word or phrase is to see it used in a sentence.

Here are a few examples to help you learn the meaning and proper usage of ‘soft-spoken’:

  • The soft-spoken professor was difficult to hear in the back of the lecture hall
  • Though he is soft-spoken, he wields a lot of power in the company
  • The soft-spoken young woman has lived in Hamilton County her whole life
  • Typically soft-spoken and reserved, Johnny was unusually gregarious that night
  • He was more soft-spoken than usual on Friday

Is It an Insult to Be Called ‘Soft-Spoken’?

It’s possible that you’ve ended up reading this article because you heard someone refer to you as ‘soft-spoken.’ At first, you might assume that it’s an insult to be described in this way, but that isn’t necessarily the case at all.

Whether 'soft-spoken' is being used positively or negatively has to do with the context, but in many instances, it is simply a phrase used to describe the character of another individual that has a mild, gentle, or pleasant voice. While it could be used as a descriptor for a person that is difficult to hear or overly reserved, it can also point to calmness and tranquility in another person’s personality in a positive light.

The Origins of ‘Soft Spoken’

The origins of the adjective ‘soft-spoken’ come from the 1600s as a combination of the words ‘soft’ and ‘spoken.’

‘Soft' is an adjective that comes from the Old English softe, which was earlier written as sefte and defined as "gentle, mild-natured; easeful, comfortable, calm, undisturbed; luxurious."

Used are early as 1200 to describe material things, the word meant “not stiff, not coarse, fine; yielding to weight.” A few hundred years later in the late 14th century, there are examples of the word being used to describe wind and rain as well as sounds.

The word ‘soft’ is used as the first of two words in a number of descriptive phrases, including:

  • Soft-hearted
  • Soft-shelled

The use of the word ‘spoken’ (which is the past participle of ‘speak’) as a part of compounds dates back to the late 15th century.

The verb 'speak' comes from the Old English specan, which means "to speak, utter words; make a speech; hold discourse.

Other compound words that incorporate the word ‘spoken’ include:

  • Fair-spoken
  • Plain-spoken
  • Free-spoken
  • Well-spoken

Final Thoughts on ‘Soft Spoken’

A person that is soft-spoken comes off as gentle, quiet, and calm. This term can be used to describe an individual with a generally mild or reserved personality or it can more specifically point to a person that speaks with a low volume.

Understanding the meaning of terms like ‘soft-spoken’ can help you be a better writer and use more descriptive language, whether you’re crafting a short story or writing an email. For more useful information on the topic, check out our articles explaining Idioms and Figures of Speech.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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