I'm creating an application for the iPhone where the user has the ability to star an item, i.e. adding a star to the item. Now I am wondering whether I can also use unstar? Or should I go with something different - if so, what?

  • What is the purpose of 'starring'? Does it denote something, i.e. a favourite thing? Is it an actual star you are using or an asterisk (*)?
    – user3444
    Jan 31, 2011 at 16:15
  • 2
    If your users understand star as a verb that means something like "add to favorite list", I'm sure that they would understand unstar as "remove from favorite list"
    – b.roth
    Jan 31, 2011 at 16:17
  • @Bruno - is there a distinction between un-star and de-star in this sense?
    – Andy F
    Jan 31, 2011 at 16:18
  • @ElendilTheTall Yes, it is an actual star. The app shows a nice image.
    – fabian789
    Jan 31, 2011 at 16:31
  • 2
    Verbing nouns weirds the language. Unverbing them is worse yet.
    – dbkk
    Jul 11, 2011 at 6:47

5 Answers 5


The verb to unstar is not reported in the dictionary I have, which doesn't report to unpublish either.

If to star refers to an action that changes the status of something, then to unstar would be understood as the action that makes the opposite status change.

This is what happens with to unpublish, which is understood as to change the status to not published.

  • Sounds reasonable, I am going to use it now. Thanks!
    – fabian789
    Jan 31, 2011 at 16:33
  • My dictionary also does not have unpublish, but it does have unpublished and unpublishable.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 10, 2011 at 13:54
  • @GEdgar Both the terms are reported from the NOAD too, but they are adjectives.
    – apaderno
    Jul 10, 2011 at 13:59
  • 1
    @GEdgar: there is a little difference there. Unpublished and unpublishable, can be used when speaking about printed press, and refer to the fact that an article/text has not been published yet (or it is too bad to be published). In printed press there is no way to unpublish something once it is published. Unpublish specifically refers to some sort of electronic publication, where the "publication status" of an item can be reversed.
    – nico
    Jul 11, 2011 at 6:41

Unstar is commonly used in applications such as Gmail. I would say yes, it's acceptable to use in the context of software.


i am not sure about unstar but you can definitely use Unstarred as gmail and other e-mail provider use in there action buttons

  • That is true, but unhelpful. "Un-" is a much more productive prefix with adjectives (including participles) than it is with verbs. Examples with adjectives: "unwritten, unheard, un-English, undifferentiated, unusual, unsubtle, unbeaten, unamusing". With verbs, as Whorf pointed out, it is mostly limited to verbs of fastening or enclosing: "untie, unwrap, unlock, unstrap, unroll". There have always been a few notable exceptions such as "unsay" (which is archaic); but I think that the verbal prefix has been broadening its range in the last few decades, as here.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 31, 2011 at 17:36
  • 4
    @Colin I think what is happening is verbalization of the adjectives rather than use of the prefix "un" with verbs. "star" (mark with a star) -> "starred" (marked with a star) -> "unstarred" (not marked with a star) -> "unstar" (to make not marked with a star) rather than "star" (mark with a star) => "unstar" (make not marked with a star).
    – nohat
    Jan 31, 2011 at 18:54
  • @Nohat - I think you're right. Good point.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 1, 2011 at 14:05

i think it is obvious that "to unstar" something is to set a value to 0 that was once a 1, with a star icon displayed, but if you read the linked question there seems to be a bit of confusion in the general public as to how "to star" should be interpreted as a verb.

basically, "star" is not a verb, so neither is "unstar" but if you do decide to use one as a verb you might as well use the other to be consistent.

you'd be safer using actual verbs from the dictionary, saying "remove a star" alongside a clear concept of what "adding a star" means.


Is it really difficult to say "remove a star", which all readers will understand instantly, without needing to refer to a glossary?

Whether or not this activity requires the inclusion of a new word in the English language remains to be seen, but it isn't there yet, so why make life difficult for yourself? Fretting over it has probably taken up much more of your time and energy than typing the extra few characters would have.

Just use words that say what you mean, and will be understood by your readers -- i.e. in this case, if you're writing for GMail users, go ahead and use "unstar"; if you're not, consider using real words.

  • Software does not always follow standard language rules. Oftentimes shorter is better.
    – nico
    Jul 11, 2011 at 6:45
  • In the code, sure, but when explaining to a user how to use something, code-style shortcuts are usually best avoided (unless you enjoy getting bugs because they've misunderstood and screwed it up). Jul 11, 2011 at 12:55
  • true, in documentation a longer explanation is definitely better
    – nico
    Jul 11, 2011 at 17:41

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