For a long time I didn't make the sublime distinction between something that cannot satisfy and something that cannot be satisfied, and so I used the word insatiable for both until I was just now revising an article I wrote where this line appears:

Like a bit of insatiable gruel in Oliver Twist’s bowl.

What is the correct word to replace insatiable, because obviously it isn't the gruel that is insatiable!

Ps: I'm trying to avoid using 'unsatisfying' as I'm looking for a word that communicates the difficulty or impossibility that insatiable does.

  • 2
    Unsatisfying works well in the context you describe. Please elaborate on why unsatisfying is unsatisfactory to you, and outline the qualities you would like to see in the requested word.
    – Lawrence
    Jul 4, 2017 at 9:58
  • user191110 - @Lawrence makes a good point. My hunch is that a meal of as much plain pasta as you can eat would satiate you (i.e. fill your stomach), but it would be unsatisfying as it is a very boring meal.
    – AndyT
    Jul 4, 2017 at 10:04
  • Well, I'm looking for a word that communicates the difficulty or impossibility that insatiable does, except that it will relate to the thing that isn't satisfying rather than the thing or person that isn't satisfied. I don't know if that helps?
    – user191110
    Jul 4, 2017 at 10:16
  • Are you distinguishing between 'not happy' and 'not full'?
    – Lawrence
    Jul 4, 2017 at 10:19
  • 1
    Unsatisfactory. Jul 5, 2017 at 13:32

3 Answers 3


The words satisfy and insatiable both have the root word sate:

to satisfy (a desire or appetite) fully

Therefore the adjective meaning "does not sate" would plausibly be unsating. It does appear in some dictionaries (e.g. Collins), but it's not a common word.


Given that insatiable, meaning "cannot be satisfied", could be interpreted as "cannot get enough", perhaps a suitable word would be insufficient:

  1. not sufficient; lacking in what is necessary or required:

  2. deficient in force, quality, or amount; inadequate:


Consider meager (or meagre, depending on the dialect):

Of food or diet: scanty; deficient in quantity, taste, or nutritional value. (OED)

Example usage, from a review of a book on the Spanish Civil War:

... the despair of young soldiers in the trenches, infested with lice, surrounded by dead bodies, and soaked with rain and mud, trying to fight while sustained by a meager gruel of potatoes and dried beans.

The phrase "meager gruel" is somewhat idiomatic in and of itself, being used as a metaphor to refer to anything that may be unsatisfying. For example, in a review of the TV series Alphas:

If there are any grown-up fanboys left in America—people who can bring themselves to admit that this summer's blockbusters-in-tights are meager gruel—then Alphas may have enough beta charm to see them through the season.

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