Unsatisfied vs Dissatisfied – What’s The Difference?

Unsatisfied and dissatisfied have similar but slightly different meanings, partially owing to the different meanings of their root word, satisfy.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Is The Difference between Unsatisfied and Dissatisfied?

Do you ever find yourself asking “Wait, is it unsatisfied or dissatisfied?” If so, this post will help you.

To satisfy can mean both to please and to fulfill, and these different meanings are reflected in the meanings of unsatisfied and dissatisfied. 

You can think of unsatisfied is something like a measurement, whereas dissatisfied is more like a description of a mood.

Here’s another way to think about it:

  • Unsatisfied can refer to people as well as things and ideas — like contracts or demands. You can also saying “That was an unsatisfying conclusion to that movie.”
  • Dissatisfied can only refer to people. 

For example, if I fail to do the work outlined in my contract, my boss might fire me for “unsatisfied obligations.” You see, the obligations aren’t unhappy — they just haven’t been met.

If my boss is dissatisfied with me — which would never happen, obviously — that means he is annoyed, disappointed, or simply unhappy. 

So to recap what each means:

  • Unsatisfied — unmet, unfulfilled, not getting all that is wanted or needed. Used for both people and things.  
  • Dissatisfied not pleased, not happy, annoyed. Used only to describe people.

Examples of Unsatisfied

Use unsatisfied to describe a state of being unfulfilled or unmet, in both people and things.

For example:

Austen’s debts were unsatisfied, so he went into default.

The next example helps to show how unsatisfied differs from dissatisfied:

I had one slice of cake, but my hunger is unsatisfied — so I’ll have another!

It’s not that the cake is bad — I’m not unhappy, not actively dissatisfied — it’s simply that one slice wasn’t enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. (It never is.)

Examples of Dissatisfied

Use dissatisfied to describe a person who is displeased or unhappy, like the father of an art major.

Let’s see how Austen’s feeling:

Austen was very dissatisfied when his car was repossessed.

I bet! And what about my sweet tooth?

The cake was great, but I’m really dissatisfied with this ice cream — it’s gritty and bland.

Darn! Guess I better get the good stuff next time.

Unsatisfied and Dissatisfied Used Together 

Just for my satisfaction, let’s put both words together in one example:

The protesters’ demands were unsatisfied, so they left the protest dissatisfied.

Well, I hope I’ve satisfied your needs for grammatical clarification. If you have more burning questions, check out our other blog entries on commonly mixed-up words!

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