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For the word interest we can say:

I am disinterested* in that topic.

And it is correct. To be correct again we must use the prefix "un" if we choose to structure the sentence this way:

That topic is uninteresting.

Why is it like this? Is there perhaps an Old English rule that determines the negative prefixes that the common English speaker has since forgotten? Are there other examples? The mirriam dictionary linked below says there is an argument over this particular word, so maybe this is unique to this word. Maybe the answer is in the exact purpose of "dis" and "un".

* It seems that uninterested is also a word but I never hear anyone use it. There is apparently an old argument over this too.

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un- interested and dis- interested are two different words each with its own significant meaning. See dictionaries for some helpful information. Try the usage examples from Google Books for an insight into the differences. This is not about grammar as such but the two different prefixes in this case have different implications. –  Kris Apr 5 '13 at 7:14
On ELU, this would be considered general reference. –  Kris Apr 5 '13 at 7:15
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2 Answers

I thought I'd better offer an answer rather than a comment here, after doing a little research.

Traditionally, there was / is a famous distinction between uninterested (heading towards bored) and disinterested (impartial), but the distinction is apparently (and sadly) becoming blurred. Though many people would want to maintain the useful distinction (I'm one of these), English is ultimately a communication tool, and we must bear in mind the ways a substantial proportion of speakers use words. These change over time, and the process seems largely unavoidable, even in cases where people more interested in the language per se than the majority of speakers are consider the changes for the worse.

At http://grammar.about.com/od/alightersideofwriting/a/disuninterest.htm is a fine series of comments about the uninterested / disinterested debate, including discussions about how far the blurring has gone / 'is acceptable'.

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OED has


1. Unbiassed [sic], impartial. Obs.
2. Free from motives of personal interest; disinterested. Obs.
3. Unconcerned, indifferent. In this sense disinterested is increasingly common in informal use, though widely regarded as incorrect: see disinterested adj. 1.


1. Without interest or concern; not interested, unconcerned. (Often regarded as a loose use.)
2. Not influenced by interest; impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced; now always, Unbiased by personal interest; free from self-seeking. (Of persons, or their dispositions, actions, etc.)

So uninterested is indifferent (that is, the subject is of no interest or note). Disinterested may also mean that, but that would be to use the word loosely; less loosely it means unbiased.

From uninterested comes uninteresting — of no concern, not noteworthy, trivial.

Thus someone may be disinterested in a subject without it being uninteresting. It is not altogether correct to say "I am disinterested in that topic" means the same as "That topic is uninteresting."

The usage discussion in MW to which you refer makes much the same point. Since we have two words which have evolved to have distinct and useful meanings it is a shame to confuse them in loose usage.

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