Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

These two words are just two different ways to say the same thing, right? Not exactly. In fact, saying that you are “uninterested” in a subject has a completely different meaning than saying you are “disinterested” in the subject.

It’s easy to enough to see why these two words may seem like they are interchangeable. After all, both “un” and “dis” are prefixes that are used to indicate negation. You can “undo” something, just as you can “dislike” something else. Even though “disdo” isn’t a real word, “unlike” has entered the modern vernacular thanks to Facebook. But I digress.

So, what is the difference between being “uninterested” and being “disinterested” in something?

You are uninterested in something if you have no interest or concern about that subject. It’s to indicate that you are indifferent, that you have no inclination to be engaged in that topic. You might say that you are uninterested in the Vancouver Canucks and the NHL, for example. You can be uninterested in 17th century Portuguese literature. You may be uninterested in the complexities of quantum physics.

While it is strictly true to say that being disinterested in something is to say that you are have no interest in it, the meaning of “interest” here in quite different. Instead, being “disinterested” refers to being objective. In other words, it means that your decisions will not be influenced out of an interest for personal gain. You are unbiased, objective, and neutral.

The term “disinterested” is oftentimes used in the context of politics and legal proceedings, where a “disinterested” third party may be called in to resolve a situation. The disinterested person has no stake in the decision or outcome, and as such, can be more impartial.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 topic? I’m very interested to hear what you have to say!