9th September 2015
Word Choice: Disinterested vs. Uninterested
Here at Proofed, we see plenty of linguistic mix-ups. However, few cause more confusion than “disinterested” and “uninterested.” It’s easy to understand why these words sometimes baffle even native English speakers, as they’re alike in many ways.
Both are adjectives related to attention, for example, and the prefixes “dis-” and “un-” are sometimes used interchangeably. But “disinterested” and “uninterested” have importantly distinct meanings, so it’s vital to use them correctly in academic writing.
The word “disinterested” implies freedom from bias and self-interest. When we want to take a neutral or objective attitude towards something, we would adopt a “disinterested approach”:
Although he cared about the environment, as a scientist, James knew he had to address climate change disinterestedly.
The word “uninterested,” by comparison, means “indifferent” or “bored.” Thus, if we simply have no concern for something, we are “uninterested”:
Although Jane was a environmentalist, she was uninterested in the science behind climate change.
The Prefixes: Dis- and Un-
One way to remember the difference between these terms is to consider what the prefix at the beginning of each word means.
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The prefix “dis-” implies separation (e.g., disconnected, disjointed). So being “disinterested” is an attempt to look past your own interests: a deliberate attempt to adopt a neutral attitude.
The prefix “un-” in this case implies a negation (e.g., unhappy, unknown). As such, being “uninterested” is the opposite of being interested: i.e., a lack of interest rather than a deliberate attempt to approach something without bias.
Disinterested or Uninterested?
As you can see, there’s a huge difference between the meanings of “disinterested” and “uninterested.” To make sure you use these terms correctly, remember the following:
Disinterested = Neutral or unbiased
Uninterested = Indifferent or bored
If you can remember this, you should avoid errors in your writing. But since it’s easy to overlook these things, it never hurts to have a professional check your work. Try sending a 500-word sample to be proofread for free.
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