Difference between misfunction and malfunction?

Is misfunction a proper English word? If it is, what's the difference between the two above?

5 Answers 5


Dictionaries have defined misfunction as a synonym of malfunction. See also, Wiki: To function incorrectly; to malfunction.

However, misfunction is rarely used.

Technically, malfunction implies an erroneous and detrimental functioning, whereas misfunction merely implies an incorrect (not necessarily harmful) functioning.

[emphasis mine]
mal- a combining form meaning “bad,” “wrongful,” “ill,” occurring originally in loanwords from French (malapert); on this model, used in the formation of other words ( malfunction; malcontent).

mis-1 a prefix applied to various parts of speech, meaning “ill,” “mistaken,” “wrong,” “wrongly,” “incorrectly,” or simply negating: mistrial; misprint; mistrust.


Misfucntion means slightly different from the core function However Malfunction means drastically different from core function.


Malfunction refers to the function itself failing to operate as designed. For example, if a valve fails to completely shut off a pipe because it's improperly seated, it malfunctions.

Misfunction is when a function works as designed, but with the wrong effect due to exterior circumstances. For example, if a valve misfunctions, it shuts off the pipe correctly, but at the wrong time, because of excess flow, for example. A gun "misfiring" is another good example of a misfunction. The gun discharges the round the way it was designed to (i.e., it doesn't "malfunction"), but at the wrong time, say because the trigger was set too sensitive.

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    Welcome to ELU! Do you have any citations (e.g., to dictionaries) to back up these claims? Jan 2, 2015 at 19:18

A malfunction can happen continually; a misfunction can happen continuously.

"Once again, the turret drill press is malfunctioning; it is misfunctioning on every piece."

But, essentially, they mean the same. Most English speakers would look at this differentiation as pedantic or worse.

"Works poorly" is my choice against the Latinate.


misfunction can happen when you are in a hurry and they cancel your flight orsteal your car. Malfunction usually happens when you go back or are late. The best you can do then is to turn back and try to catch up. And afterwards they have to give you back the car or plane anyway.


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