• 2-minute read
  • 19th November 2018

Word Choice: Dissatisfied vs. Unsatisfied

The difference between “dissatisfied” and “unsatisfied” is subtle, so you need to use these terms carefully. If you want your writing to be error free, then, check out our guide to what these words mean. We guarantee that you’ll feel neither “dissatisfied” nor “unsatisfied” if you do!

Dissatisfied (Unhappy with Something)

The word “dissatisfied” is an adjective that means “unhappy” or “displeased.” For example, were someone unhappy with their home decor, we might say:

Tim had long felt dissatisfied with his wallpaper choices.

As shown above, the word “dissatisfied” refers to how someone feels. In addition, something that leaves someone dissatisfied can be “dissatisfying” or “dissatisfactory,” although the former is more widely used these days.

Unsatisfied (Not Yet Fulfilled)

“Unsatisfied” is an adjective that specifically refers to feeling unfulfilled. This is not quite the same as being displeased. For example, we might say:

Jess liked her job, but it left her creatively unsatisfied.

In the sentence above, it is the lack of something that is the problem, not her job in itself. Another difference is that “unsatisfied” can be impersonal rather than a feeling. For instance:

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We canceled the contract after a clause was left unsatisfied.

Here, we’re not saying that the contract felt unfulfilled. Instead, “unsatisfied” means that the conditions set out in the contract were not met. And as this shows, “unsatisfied” does not always refer to a feeling.

We see a similar distinction between “unsatisfying” and “unsatisfactory.” The first term means “fails to satisfy,” which is linked to feeling “unsatisfied.” But the second term means “inadequate” or “substandard,” which isn’t necessarily about how someone or something feels.

Dissatisfied or Unsatisfied?

Although these words overlap in some cases, keep the following in mind:

  • To be dissatisfied is to be displeased or unhappy with something. For example, if a meal is filling but tastes bad, you might say it is “dissatisfying.”
  • To be unsatisfied is to feel unfulfilled by something. For instance, if a meal tastes great but you are still hungry afterwards, it was “unsatisfying.”

Something can be both dissatisfying and unsatisfying, but usually one word will fit the situation better than the other. And if you’d like help more help with word choice in your writing, let us know.

Comments (2)
9th February 2023 at 16:56
It seems your first paragraph is incorrect. An adjective describes a noun. The example you provided about Tim/wallpaper describes his feelings, making it an adverb.
    15th February 2023 at 10:33
    Hi, Karen! Thanks for this. In our example, “dissatisfied” is the adjective following the verb “had felt,” as it describes the subject of the sentence rather than the verb (How did Tim feel? Dissatisfied). It’s actually a predicate adjective as it’s linked to the noun by the verb instead of coming before it (there’s more about this in our article here if you wanted to read further https://proofed.com/writing-tips/grammar-tips-subjects-and-predicates/). “Long” here acts as the adverb, describing the verb “had felt.” I hope this helps!

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