Ask the Editor
Disinterested vs. uninterested
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Yaoen from Singapore asked, "What's the difference between disinterested and uninterested?"
The reason these two words are confusing is that disinterested has two meanings, and one of these meanings is the same or nearly the same as the meaning of uninterested - but the other meaning is different.
Let's start with uninterested:
Uninterested means not wanting to learn more about something or become involved in something, as in this example:
Disinterested can mean the same thing, and can be used in the same sentence:
However, this is not the most common meaning of disinterested. More often, disinterested is used to mean impartial, or not influenced by personal feelings, opinions, or concerns, as in this example:
In addition, some teachers and writers object to the other use of disinterested ("not wanting to learn more...") and even view it as an error. Therefore, in formal writing it's best to use disinterested to mean impartial, and uninterested to mean not wanting to learn more or get involved.
I hope this helps.