Disinterested vs. Uninterested

If a new movie stars an actor you can’t stand, are you disinterested or uninterested in paying to go see it on opening night? These two words are often used interchangeably, but not by grammarians in the know. Do know the difference between disinterested and uninterested?

Disinterested has two meanings. The first and most widely accepted one is “impartial; unbiased by personal interest or advantage” as in “A disinterested observer is the best judge of behavior.” The second meaning is “not interested,” as in “Having not followed Justin Bieber’s career, she was disinterested in the artist’s new release.” Both senses are well established in all varieties of English, but many argue that disinterested should only be used to mean “impartial.” Reserving disinterested for this sense minimizes confusion with the term uninterested.

Uninterested means “have or show no feeling of interest; indifferent.” A student who dislikes reading plays might be uninterested in studying the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Disinterested and uninterested have swapped definitions over the years, adding to the uncertainty surrounding which word means “indifferent” and which word means “impartial.” Both are variations of the word interested, from the Latin interesse “to concern, to be between.” Interested is usually used to denote “having the attention or curiosity engaged.” A less common definition is “influenced by personal or selfish motives; having a stake in or money involved,” which comes from the use of the word interest in business and finance.

Although context often makes the intended meaning clear, it is best to use disinterested when you mean impartial or unbiased, and uninterested when you mean indifferent or bored.

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