Mistrust or Distrust – What’s the Difference?

Sometimes, two words are so similar that even experienced writers have trouble remembering which is which.

Distrust and mistrust are two such words. Their meanings are so similar that they are often substituted for one another. Careful writers, though, can make use of the shades of meaning between these two words to make their writing stronger and more precise.

What is the Difference Between Mistrust and Distrust?

In this post, I will compare mistrust vs. distrust. I will use each of these words in example sentences to demonstrate their proper use in context.

I will also include a mnemonic device that is useful for choosing distrust or mistrust correctly.

When to Use Distrust

mistrust versus distrustWhat does distrust mean? Distrust can be a noun or a verb.

As a noun, distrust means the belief that someone or something is not reliable.

Here are three examples,

  • The distrust in the boardroom was palpable as the accountants lied about fudging the numbers.
  • “There is too much distrust between us for this relationship to work,” said Vivienne’s unfaithful partner.
  • A Pew Survey conducted last spring found that anger and distrust among Americans for opposite party members was at its highest level in nearly a quarter-century. –The New York Times

As a verb, distrust refers to the act of withholding faith or confidence.

For example,

  • “I distrust this person’s so-called expert opinion,” said Marty.
  • “If you distrust me, then prove me wrong,” challenged Edna.

Distrust is a regular verb. It conjugates to distrusting as a present participle, and distrusted in the simple past tense.

Distrust Conjugated:

  • Distrust: first person present singular and plural, second person present singular and plural, third person present plural
  • Distrusts: third person present singular
  • Distrusted: simple past
  • Distrusting: Present participle

The adjective form of this word is distrustful. As an adjective, it can be used to modify nouns.

When to Use Mistrust

define mistrust define distrust What does mistrust mean? Mistrust is a word that means largely the same thing as distrust as both a noun and a verb, but it has slightly different connotations (see below).

As a verb, mistrust is conjugated similarly to distrust, since it is also a regular verb.

Here is an example of mistrust being used as a noun,

  • It has sown mistrust among career employees at State, who swap paranoid stories about Tillerson that often turn out to be untrue. –The Washington Post

Additionally, both mistrust and distrust take the preposition of.

Is There Any Difference Between These Words?

definition of distrust definition of mistrust definition The difference between mistrust and distrust comes down to nuances in meaning.

Distrust is a withholding of trust based on evidence or informed opinion. Many people distrust salespeople working on commission, for instance, knowing that these salespeople personally benefit from their purchases. This distrust stems from knowledge about the motivations of other people. Additionally, some people distrust doctors because they make suggestions on tests and scans to be performed from which they personally benefit.

On the other hand, many people mistrust strangers who approach them in public because it makes them uncomfortable. This withholding of trust is based on a feeling of unease, rather than an informed opinion.

In other words,

  • Use distrust if the lack of faith is for a good reason.
  • Use mistrust for a lack of faith that is based on discomfort or unease.

Since distrust and disbelieve are synonyms that start the same way, you can use the prefix dis– as a reminder of this word’s meaning.


Is it mistrust or distrust? Mistrust and distrust are related words that refer to a lack of trust as both nouns and verbs.

  • Mistrust refers to a lack of trust that is instinctual or based on a feeling of uneasiness.
  • Distrust is based on evidence or informed opinion.

If you ever find yourself confused between mistrust vs. distrust in the future, you can use this article as a refresher.