I was working with somebody else's source code and find them using the word “disactivate” in the code documentation as follows:

disactivate the minor mode. The persistent action is to show help

I've never encountered this word before and always assumed “deactivate” is the only valid verb to mean the opposite of “activate”.

Apparently, “inactivate” is used as frequently as “deactivate” but mostly in biology, rather than in general contexts. Is “disactivate” a legitimate word? If yes, in which contexts it's used most frequently?

  • Certainly "disactivate" will deactivate many readers' beliefs that the authors are writing with authority.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:21
  • Aside from the fact that it is a valid word or not, the thing you are forgetting is that the owner of this Github repo is French. The French word for deactivate is "désactiver". French people tent to take French words and simply modify the suffix thinking that makes them correct English words... usually, it works...
    – user206904
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:25

2 Answers 2


Seems like “disactivate” is almost never used. In Corpus of Contemporary American English “deactivate” is used 137 times, “inactivate” is used 105 times (almost all of them in biology contexts), “disactivate” isn't used at all. OneLook has only one reference, to Urban Dictionary. New Oxford American Dictionary doesn't contain the word either. Google Books Ngram Viewer shows no mentions of “disactivate”.

You should use “deactivate” instead of “disactivate”.


Dictionnaries have not always all the words we use or need, as there are sedimentations of common vocab. However, in tech. expressions we may find inactivate, disactivate & deactivate.

  • inactivate : means with no activity. (But remains the question of the activation - ie. when a cell could be inactivate despite an activation...)

  • disactivate & deactivate : mean both that there is no more the activity it could have previously.

    But disactivate bears the dynamical notion to swich off the activity to produce the final state of the deactivation. The result are the same but deactivate is the final sleeping step of taking off the activity by disactivation which is an inhibition of activation.

  • Mirzan's answer, above yours, includes compelling evidence that not only doe this word not appear in standard dictionaries, it doesn't appear in slang dictionaries (which generally capture the vernacular), nor even in a broad survey of language used in the wild (the COCA corpus is one of the most comprehensive available for AmE). If you want to counter that and have readers lean towards your position, you're going to have to offer more than just bald assertion (why believe you?). Since you say it's used in "tech", can you cite some technical glossaries or other sources which report the word?
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 11, 2016 at 18:24
  • BTW, I think your particular usage of sedimentations falls into the same category as "disactivate"; it seems fairly ... unique (i.e. I haven't heard anyone else ever use it that way).
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 11, 2016 at 18:24
  • I just say that you can't find everything in dictionaries, mostly if you talk about standard ones (& I never considered slang). Take also notice, my aim is not to have "readers leaning twrd me" ('cause I know it's useless for them) but to set the point btw disactivate & deactivate only if one needs to. So it's not because you don't care or never saw it that you could say a nuance is no-good ; as it's a tool others (may) use or redo for their own purpose... [I won't deal about sedimentation -you'll find it in all dictionary -I assume it"s more simple than "disactivate"]
    – DAVE
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:03
  • Let me try to put it more briefly: there is no reason for anyone reading your answer to believe it. You may think you're drawing out some nuance, but would make anyone believe that's a nuance other people would understand, and not just "something Dave from the Internet said"? And, as I tried to elaborate on in my first comment, you're right that dictionaries can't capture every single word, so when you think a word might be valid, you check glossaries and ultimately corpora, and if even those have found no instances of the word being used in the wild, then you may conclude the word is unused.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:28
  • It's not a question of belief, Dan. & so far a concept might be designed (even if you don't have yet the purpose) your mere consideration of the common use (which is not at stake here !) is no relevant to bar it because words are communication tools you're free to use or even to create if needed to express an idea. We're not dealing here of the validity of a term for a new brand of your favorite onion soup :)
    – DAVE
    Mar 11, 2016 at 22:22

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