English has a knack for making life difficult. Not only are English words full of silent letters (think “knock” and “align”), but they also have a sneaky habit of looking a lot like other words.
To make things even more tricky, some words that look similar mean the same thing (e.g., “empathic” and “empathetic”) whereas others mean very different things (e.g., “principle” vs. “principal”). Which group do the words “disinterested” and “uninterested” fall into? Have any idea?
“Disinterested” and “uninterested” fall into the second category – they’re words that look similar but mean different things. How exactly do they differ?
Let’s start with “uninterested” because it’s probably the word that you’re more familiar with. When people are uninterested in something, it means that they have no interest in it. For example, if we say that we’re uninterested in running a marathon next April, it means that we don’t want to do it. (Running for 42 km or 26 miles nonstop? Yeah, we’ll pass on that.)
You would also use “uninterested” in sentences like these:
- “I’m uninterested in learning about the nuances of SEO.”
- “Tomas is uninterested in modern art.”
- “Customers seem to be uninterested in the new product.”
In each of these sentences, we’re talking about someone who has no interest in something.
In comparison, “disinterested” means “impartial” or “unbiased.” For example, if we say that we’re disinterested in the outcome of a basketball game, it means that we don’t care which team wins. (We’re just happy to have enough free time to watch the game!) And if you’re headed to court, you may be worried if the judge is uninterested in the trial, but it’s a good thing if he or she is disinterested in it.
You could also use “disinterested” in sentences like these:
- “It’s important for a referee to be disinterested in the outcome of a game.”
- “Because the investor is married to the founder’s sister, we can’t assume that he’s a disinterested party.”
- “We’re concerned that the company that’s performing the audit isn’t a disinterested group.”
In all of these sentences, we’re talking about someone who is impartial to something.
Of course, if someone is uninterested in the outcome of a sports game, this person may also be disinterested in it. After all, if Tom doesn’t care at all about basketball, he may not care if his home team or the visiting team wins tonight’s game.
However, the reverse isn’t necessarily true. If Toms is disinterested in the game’s outcome, he isn’t necessarily uninterested in it. That is, Tom can still be really excited for the game even if he doesn’t care who wins.
If you need a trick for remembering the difference between “uninterested” and “disinterested,” try this: remember that someone who is “disinterested” in something has enough personal or professional “distance” from it to be impartial to it. Both words start with the same three letters, which can help you remember that they go together.
Want to know the difference between other commonly misused words? Check out our post on the difference between “compliment” and “complement.”
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