Dictionary.com

Disinterested vs. Uninterested

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If a new movie stars an actor you can’t stand, are you disinterested or uninterested in paying to go see it on opening night? These two words are often used interchangeably, but not by grammarians in the know. Do know the difference between disinterested and uninterested?

Disinterested has two meanings. The first and most widely accepted one is “impartial; unbiased by personal interest or advantage” as in “A disinterested observer is the best judge of behavior.” The second meaning is “not interested,” as in “Having not followed Justin Bieber’s career, she was disinterested in the artist’s new release.” Both senses are well established in all varieties of English, but many argue that disinterested should only be used to mean “impartial.” Reserving disinterested for this sense minimizes confusion with the term uninterested.

Uninterested means “have or show no feeling of interest; indifferent.” A student who dislikes reading plays might be uninterested in studying the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Disinterested and uninterested have swapped definitions over the years, adding to the uncertainty surrounding which word means “indifferent” and which word means “impartial.” Both are variations of the word interested, from the Latin interesse “to concern, to be between.” Interested is usually used to denote “having the attention or curiosity engaged.” A less common definition is “influenced by personal or selfish motives; having a stake in or money involved,” which comes from the use of the word interest in business and finance.

Although context often makes the intended meaning clear, it is best to use disinterested when you mean impartial or unbiased, and uninterested when you mean indifferent or bored.

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39 Comments

  1. Harley -  March 15, 2016 - 4:05 pm

    My question is WHO WOULDNT BE INTERESTED IN JUSTIN BEIBERS NEW RELEASES?

    Reply
    • Floong -  May 19, 2016 - 4:22 am

      Even with a possessive apostrophe I would remain profoundly uninterested in anything created by Ms Beiber.

      Reply
  2. Gerardo Martinez -  January 15, 2016 - 4:24 pm

    I am very impresed about these comments

    Reply
  3. Shone @ Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte -  October 12, 2015 - 9:40 pm

    Thanks for the infos.!!!!:)

    Reply
  4. th -  September 24, 2015 - 9:31 pm

    Hi my friend! I want to say that this article is amazing, nice written and include approximately all significant infos.
    I’d like to see extra posts like this .

    Reply
  5. Tem -  September 23, 2015 - 2:09 pm

    Disinterested: 1. Have or show no interest due to personal motive. 2. Lose interest due to personal motive.

    Uninterested: (commonly: “not interested”) Have or show no interest

    Reply
  6. Tyler -  September 17, 2015 - 9:25 am

    People often just say “not interested” instead of “uninterested.”

    Reply
  7. Sonic -  September 15, 2015 - 7:33 pm

    this is confusing!

    Reply
    • john -  September 21, 2015 - 9:10 am

      unintrested

      Reply
  8. J -  September 15, 2015 - 8:35 am

    my understanding is as follows:

    uninterested – actively not interested
    disinterested – passively indifferent

    i suppose this is up for debate. however, this article does nothing to convince me that the author is sure of the difference between the two words.

    Reply
    • Blarg -  September 17, 2015 - 7:40 am

      I always thought that ‘disinterested’ was essentially a synonym for ‘impartial’, and had nothing to do with something being interesting or otherwise. I think what is confusing (and I might be horribly wrong here) is the two get muddled up thus:

      being ‘uninterested’ implies ‘disinterest’ (because ‘uninterest’ isn’t a word, I think)

      while being ‘disinterested’ implies ‘disinterestedness’ (which, to my surprise, is in my spellchecker!)

      Again this is merely speculation!

      Reply
    • Rad Thomas -  September 19, 2015 - 1:16 am

      Hi J

      Uninterested = indifferent, it is the opposite of interested.
      Disinterested = unbiased, a Judge should be disinterested in the outcome of the case he or she is trying, not indifferent.

      They are not interchangeable.

      Hope this helps

      Reply
      • J -  September 21, 2015 - 11:38 am

        thank you, RT.

        Reply
      • Bryan Brew -  January 11, 2016 - 7:59 pm

        Great explanations–and commentary! I just have another comment that may be worth considering. As far as “commonly misused words” are concerned–including “disinterested” vs. “uninterested”; it may be helpful to use a substitute word (depending on the “recipient” or “audience, of course)–to further avoid confusion. For example, even when the word: “disinterested” is appropriate– it may be better to use the word “neutral” or “unbiased”–depending on the intended recipients and audience–and context.. I am NOT necessarily implying that the words “neutral” or “unbiased” are INTERCHANGEABLE with the word “disinterested”; but such **synonyms** may be appropriate to avoid confusion.

        Reply
  9. Nicky -  September 13, 2015 - 11:17 pm

    So what is the correct answer for the opening question of “a new movie stars an actor you can’t stand”? You can’t be disinterested because you’re biased, but you can’t be uninterested because of indifference or boredom, it was specifically the actor in question that is not liked. So would I have to use in the sentence that I am merely “not interested” in the so called new movie?

    Reply
    • leapfrog -  September 15, 2015 - 8:34 am

      The correct answer is uninterested. You would only be “disinterested in paying” if your mother (or someone) gave you the money to pay the price of admission. Otherwise it would be “your nickel”, so you would have an “interest” (i.e. a financial one) once you paid the price of admission. But in this case you wouldn’t spend your own money because you can’t stand the actor, and are thus uninterested in paying to see the movie on opening night,or on any other night for that matter.

      Reply
  10. EdVerizonHearFrom Me Now. -  September 12, 2015 - 5:09 pm

    Sue: This must be embarrassing for the author. Would you not agree?

    Reply
    • ScarceKibbles -  September 16, 2015 - 7:40 am

      Because, I DONT KNOW! :p

      Reply
  11. Michael Kambas -  September 12, 2015 - 12:14 am

    DISINTERESTED
    …actually has a 3rd meaning too. It means “Having lost interest.” In which case it’s preceded by the verb “become.”

    Example:
    “Why do men become disinterested when you show you are interested?”

    “At first I liked it a lot, but later I became disinterested in my exercise class.”

    Reply
  12. Sharon Lichon -  September 8, 2015 - 8:27 am

    Sign me up, Scotty

    Reply
  13. saleh -  September 6, 2015 - 1:36 pm

    Very much interested to add clarity to my knowledge and understanding of words being used interchangeably, hence communicate as lucidly as possible.

    Reply
  14. Sherryl -  September 3, 2015 - 9:44 am

    Thanks for the clarity of meanings.

    Reply
  15. Sue -  September 3, 2015 - 8:17 am

    I’m not a grammarian, but perhaps a correction is in order for this attempted sentence at the end of the first paragraph:

    “Do know the difference between disinterested and uninterested?”

    Reply
    • Zygote -  September 10, 2015 - 11:21 pm

      The editor fell asleep on the job.

      Reply
    • Lj -  September 14, 2015 - 3:17 am

      Ahhh, very good.

      Reply
      • elisabith -  October 7, 2015 - 6:41 pm

        very funny

        Reply
    • Mark -  September 17, 2015 - 11:58 am

      See, I’ve always wondered why “Get over here!” Is implied to refer to a second person view, while “buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo” supposedly implies a large number of words, and is grammatically correct; but this context would seem “you” is implied, and as such would be grammatically correct.

      Reply
  16. RICHARD C YOUNG -  September 2, 2015 - 2:22 pm

    I grew up.with this kind of teaching

    Reply
  17. RICHARD C YOUNG -  September 2, 2015 - 2:20 pm

    Very kool ! Are these two words PRONOUNS ?

    Reply
    • Michael Kambas -  September 11, 2015 - 11:58 pm

      Oddly enough, I thought they were pronouns, but they’re actually listed as ADJECTIVES in the dictionary.

      Reply
      • Michael Kambas -  September 11, 2015 - 11:59 pm

        …in fact I thought they were participles of their respective verbs.

        Reply
        • Alvin -  September 16, 2015 - 12:38 am

          Impressive! Many people are unaware that the verb, “to interest”, even exists. In this case, both variations of the word are derived from its past participle, “interested”. This is definitely a very interesting article!

          Reply
    • angel -  September 13, 2015 - 7:32 pm

      Is that a serious question?? They’re adjectives.

      Reply
      • Alvin -  September 16, 2015 - 12:41 am

        Mr. Kambas is both serious and correct. Participles very commonly act as adjectives.

        Reply
      • ScarceKibbles -  September 16, 2015 - 7:52 am

        Who really cares?

        Reply
        • Alvin -  September 26, 2015 - 1:20 pm

          Who cares? People with a modicum of self respect and intellectual pride care about good grammar. People who are comfortable demonstrating their ignorance and sloppy thinking generally don’t.

          Reply
        • elisabith -  October 7, 2015 - 6:41 pm

          thats mean

          Reply
        • The Grammar Nazi -  November 19, 2015 - 8:41 am

          If you don’t care, why are you reading this?
          I don’t mean any disrespect, but really?

          Reply
          • BigSoph -  August 17, 2016 - 4:52 am

            They want to demonstrate that they are alive, I guess? A strong desire to exercise their right to free speech? (Which actually does not apply here, as the 1st only applies regarding the government and persons, not between persons, even if one of those persons is a non-human entity, such as a business or other sort of corporation)

            I see this often on Youtube comments, where a person will post just to cast aspersions on the previous poster, their sexuality and promiscuity therein, the marital status of their parents and/or insinuate a predilection towards certain acts of a scatological nature.

            I find it hard to argue with said people, as their minimal, or often non-existent, arguing skills leads to juvenile name-calling. I love a good argument, with the twists and tests of one’s intellect, knowledge and savvy, but do not enjoy playing ‘scream louder’ with a colony of Howler Monkeys.

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