Unsatisfactory, unsatisfactorily, and dissatisfactory are real words, but why is dissatisfactorily not a real word?

I understand the difference between the two forms (un- vs dis-): What's the difference between "dissatisfied" and "unsatisfied"?

In constructing this sentence:

Dissatisfied employees work dissatisfactorily

I was disappointed to learn that dissatisfactorily is not in any online dictionary I consulted.

I know I could say:

unsatisfied employees work unsatisfactorily

but I think that changes the meaning significantly. Unsatisfied is almost passive and invokes thoughts of disappointment, while dissatisfied describes disapproval. So it makes sense to me that since one has an adverb so would the other. Is there something about the word dissatisfactorily that it fails to make logical sense? Is there some other reason why it is not a word?

A similar question comes close, but the OP is clearly looking for unsatisfactorily to describe what is felt in the given situation.

  • 1
    Unsatisfactorily inherently carries the notion of disapproval (by the person applying the term): the work is unsatisfactory, the assessor dissatisfied. There isn't a parallel with the pair dissatisfied and unsatisfied, where one or the other may apply. Jan 30, 2015 at 10:05
  • @EdwinAshworth That's not the impression I get from the use I observe and from this post: What's the difference between "dissatisfied" and "unsatisfied"? The work can be both un- and dis- and the assessor the corresponding word.
    – user39425
    Jan 30, 2015 at 10:07
  • Are you saying that an assessor won't necessarily be dissatisfied with unsatisfactory work? I'd say they're bound to be. Jan 30, 2015 at 10:23
  • @EdwinAshworth In a way, yes. His demands were unsatisfied, as in, not fully met. If the work was dissatisfactory then the assessor's demands that the work be done would be satisfied, but to his dissatisfaction, it would be done by a standard less then his own.
    – user39425
    Jan 30, 2015 at 10:31
  • So I would say that the assessor can be dissatisfied that his demands were were unsatisfied, as in not met.
    – user39425
    Jan 30, 2015 at 10:32

1 Answer 1


Because a word is not in any dictionary does not invalidate its use in formal register. Particularly this will apply to a regular grammatical inflection of an infrequently used word.

You will be comforted to know that whilst it does not mention dissatisfactorily, the OED (which is as ultimate an authority on the English language as you will find) does include both dissatisfactoriness and dissatisfying as derivatives.

Thus, if I were you, I would have no concerns about using dissatisfactorily.

  • This is good news. By "formal register" do you mean formal writing and such?
    – user39425
    Jan 30, 2015 at 9:52
  • though, I would probably use dissatisfyingly. Jan 30, 2015 at 9:53
  • @AverageGatsby Not a bad alternative. What is the nuanced difference between dissatisfyingly and dissatisfactorily?
    – user39425
    Jan 30, 2015 at 9:56
  • I certainly would have concerns. Senses sometimes switch markedly even between intercategorial polysemes (a phone, to phone; but a telescope; to telescope), never mind slightly less close relatives (a scheming individual, a scheme of work). And inflections are not guaranteed to work identically (escapee is one who has escaped). So how can are you supposed to understand a string not even generally accepted as a word? Jan 30, 2015 at 9:56
  • @fredsbend I expressed myself badly. I can't precisely grasp the reason why, but I would use dissatisfyingly to describe actions and dissatisfactorily if at all to modify adjectives. "This is a dissatisfactorily arbitrary answer", I know. Jan 30, 2015 at 10:02

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