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Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
Disinterested vs. uninterested
Tuesday December 20th 2011
Question
Disinterested vs. uninterested
Answer

Yaoen from Singapore asked, "What's the difference between disinterested and uninterested?"

Good question!

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:

  • He seemed uninterested in our problems, so we stopped asking him for help. 

Disinterested can mean the same thing, and can be used in the same sentence:

  • He seemed disinterested in our problems, so we stopped asking him for help.

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:

  • A disinterested third party resolved the dispute.

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.

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