Disorganized and unorganized seem like they should mean the exact same thing, so is there actually a difference between the two words?
The main difference between the two is that disorganized refers to something that was organized but isn’t anymore and unorganized refers to something that has never been organized.
Disorganized is used as an adjective and refers to things that are not properly controlled or planned. It also means that an area that was once organized is not organized any longer.
For example, you have a coworker that always has a neat desk with everything having a home. When they get too busy, you might notice some things are out of place. This makes their desk disorganized for the time being.
Since disorganized is used as an adjective, it modifies a noun. This means it can be used to describe several different nouns.
I don’t know what happened, but the meeting was completely disorganized.
When the secretary left, the entire company became disorganized.
She used to be so neat, but now her desk is disorganized.
Unorganized is also used as an adjective, but it refers to something that has never been organized and is just messy.
Think about a trash can as an example. Nothing that is in the trash can was placed there neatly or with purpose, so it is unorganized.
You can also refer to a person or event as unorganized. If someone has never shown any sign of being organized, they would be an unorganized person. If an event was thrown together last minute with no prior planning, it is also unorganized.
If your files are unorganized, you won’t be able to find anything when you need it.
Customers will be less likely to shop with you if your website is unorganized and difficult to use.
Her essay was so unorganized the teacher couldn’t read it.
Disorganized or Unorganized?
As mentioned earlier, when you throw things in the trash you are usually not doing so in a way that is neat and organized. This means that the trash can is unorganized because there was never any effort to organize the trash.
However, say you do like to organize your trash. You place everything in the trash can neatly and with a specific home. Unfortunately, along comes a raccoon. The raccoon ravishes through the trash can, throwing everything out of place. The trash can is now disorganized because it was once organized, but now it is not.
How to Remember the Difference
The easiest way to remember the difference between unorganized and disorganized is to consider the prefixes of the words.
Disorganized has the prefix dis-, which means to do the opposite. You will also notice this prefix in other words that refer to things that are no longer orderly such as disarray or disheveled.
Unorganized has the prefix un-, which basically means not. This implies that the area is not organized now, but also that it has not been organized at any time. Some other words that use this prefix are unfair, unheard of, and unseen. These words also refer to something that is not, and potentially never was.
It can be tricky to determine when you need to use the word disorganized instead of unorganized or vice versa. Since they are both adjectives, it can be even harder. Luckily, the differences are pretty easy to understand and get right.
If you are noticing that something is not organized, but it used to be, you will use the word disorganized. If you notice that something is not organized, and it never has been, you will use the word unorganized.