Disinterested means you have nothing to gain, but uninterested means you just don’t care.
The difference between the prefixes in these words is relatively subtle, so it might seem you could use them interchangeably. But they do have different meanings. By learning the difference, you can avoid the common mistake of using the wrong word.
Disinterested definition vs. uninterested definition
These two words are defined as follows:
disinterested (adj.): having no interest (in the sense of participation, responsibility, investment, potential profit, or opinion); unbiased or impartial
uninterested (adj): showing no interest (in the sense of concern or attention); uncaring or bored
As we always like to remind you, language evolves. These two similar words swapped their original meanings in the 1700s, then switched back in the early 1900s, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.
The dictionary also highlights a more recently developed meaning of disinterested: no longer interested, implying that at one time a person or entity was interested but no longer cares (they’ve become uninterested).
This meaning makes sense because we often use the prefix dis- to indicate a situation has changed: for instance, inherent in the word disengage is the idea that the subject was once engaged.
What is the difference between disinterested and uninterested?
You could say these words both refer to not caring. However, the difference between uninterested and disinterested is that they rely on different meanings of their root word, interest.
Disinterested has a stronger focus on interest as a type of investment or involvement in something, while uninterested is more about interest as a type of attention.
A person can be disinterested and still care about or still want to pay attention to something. Disinterest simply means they have no bias or nothing to gain from it.
What are some examples of when to use disinterested vs. uninterested?
So when should you use disinterested or uninterested? Google’s Ngram Viewer shows that while neither of them is among the most common words in English, disinterested has always been used more, at least in books. And it looks like we’re watching the meanings of these words evolve yet again: more and more people are using disinterested to mean uninterested.
But for now, use disinterested when you’re talking about someone who is unbiased, has no opinion or investment in something, or once cared but now doesn’t. But use uninterested when a person simply has no care or concern about something or isn’t paying attention. Let’s look at the two words together, then see some examples of how each one is used.
Together: As part of the team’s ownership group, Rashad Jones was not just a disinterested observer at games. His girlfriend Kelly was uninterested, though; she didn’t even like football.
Example sentences with disinterested
The prosecutor and defense attorney ask the citizens questions, then choose the most disinterested ones to serve on the jury. (unbiased)
Since corporations often donate money to politicians, the average voter does not believe candidates’ claims of disinterest when it comes to corporate regulations. (having nothing to gain)
When Isa found out her boyfriend was cheating on her, she became disinterested in continuing the relationship. (no longer interested)
Example sentences with uninterested
After interviewing for jobs at a restaurant and a movie theater, Mike decided he was uninterested in the restaurant position.
Marisol had joined an AA group but hesitated to share her story since she thought the other members would be uninterested.
It’s tough to keep reunions going with uninterested family members.
If you’re uninterested in trying to remember the difference between disinterested and uninterested, you might be interested in QuillBot. Our Grammar Checker knows the difference every time thanks to AI—it’s seen the words used in thousands of contexts and learned their meanings, so you can trust it to get it right.
For help with these and other words that look or sound alike, such as affective and effective, give QuillBot a try now.
What does it mean to be disinterested?
If someone is disinterested, it means they are not invested or involved; they don’t stand to gain anything, so they can be impartial. However, it can also mean they were interested at one time but no longer are.
Are disinterested and uninterested interchangeable?
No, disinterested and uninterested are not interchangeable. Disinterested means not invested, not involved, or not biased. But uninterested means not caring or not paying attention.
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