This word comes straight from Latin, where it means “a little.”
A modicum of something is a small amount of it.
MOD ih come
Part of speech:
Noun, the countable kind: “this modicum,” “a modicum of effort.”
We hardly ever make it plural, but we can: “these modicums.”
How to use it:
Sometimes you want to talk about people having or lacking a shred of decency, a scrap of intelligence, or a speck of wit, but you want to be more formal about it, more cool-headed, more standoffish in your assessment. In that case, use “modicum.” It’s a serious, scholarly word.
Put it into the phrase “a modicum of something,” usually a good thing: a modicum of hope, trust, truth, taste, fame, respect, fairness, success, restraint, control, dignity, decency, insight, intelligence, skepticism, accountability, and so on.
Notice how you talk about modicums of abstract things, like love or curiosity, but not concrete things, like paint or Diet Coke.
Once you’ve got your phrase–“a modicum of this or that”–you can stick it into your sentence by talking about people and things having, containing, gaining, receiving, keeping, losing, conceding, asserting, or offering a modicum of this or that.
“I’ve had awful auditions… When I met the Coen Brothers, I fudged it. I shook hands with Ethan, then Joel and said, ‘Good to meet you Jo-en.’ After that, I just sat down and stared at them. Mostly, it’s about trying to escape with a modicum of dignity.”
— Jonjo O’Neill, in an interview with Matt Trueman, The Guardian, 19 March 2018
“As she tries to recapture an old dream of becoming a painter, of preserving some modicum of true art amid the virtual reality of modern Montana, Corey finds herself figuring in other dramas as well…”
— University of Nebraska Press, introducing Mary Clearman Blew’s novel Jackalope Dreams, 2008