Unorganized or Disorganized – What’s the Difference?

Do disorganized and unorganized mean the same thing?

After all, how many different words do we need to describe something which is not organized? If you have ever lived or worked with someone who does not put a high value on cleanliness, you know that there are many different types of messes. Consequently, English has many different words to describe messiness.

Many writers aren’t sure of the difference between the words disorganized and unorganized. They are related in meaning, but have subtle differences that are important to remember.

Continue reading to find out whether something is unorganized or disorganized.

What is the Difference Between Unorganized and Disorganized?

In this article, I will compare unorganized vs. disorganized. I will use each of these words in example sentences to provide some context for their different uses.

I will also use a mnemonic device that you can also employ to help you remember the meanings of these two words.

When to Use Disorganized

unorganized versus disorganized What does disorganized mean? Disorganized is an adjective. It means having fallen into disarray.

You can think of disorganized as describing something that was once organized, but now is not.

Adjectives modify nouns. The adjective ugly, for instance, is often used to modify the noun sweater, particularly in the context of trendy holiday parties. Disorganized can also describe a number of different nouns.

For example,

  • The program coordinator cleans his office every Friday, but by the next Wednesday, it is back to being a disorganized mess.
  • After a series of defeats in the yearly elections, the party’s leadership was accused of being disorganized and ineffective.
  • The Americans looked sloppy and disorganized compared with their performance against Honduras, but they regrouped before halftime. –The New York Times

When to Use Unorganized

define disorganized and define unorganizedWhat does unorganized mean? Unorganized is also an adjective. It describes something which is not arranged in any specific way, or more simply messy.

  • The Vikings are 5-7 overall. Smiley believes one more win would be the most in school history, but he’s still sifting through unorganized records. –The Washington Times

If disorganized refers to something that used to be orderly, but not anymore, unorganized refers to something that had never been orderly in the first place. The garbage in a dumpster, for instance, is unorganized, because it had never existed in a state of organization.

If someone had meticulously arranged the garbage so as to most efficiently use the available space, but then a raccoon got in and made a mess of everything, the garbage could be said to be disorganized, because it was once orderly, but now it is not.

Trick to Remember the Difference

definition of disorganized definition of unorganized definition Now, let’s go over a helpful memory trick to remember disorganized vs. unorganized.

These adjectives are confusing since only their prefixes are different. Fortunately, those prefixes also provide us a clue about their meanings.

Disorganized shares its prefix dis- with other words that mean no longer orderly, like the adjective disheveled and the noun disarray.

By remembering the similarities between these words with related meanings, you should always be able to remember that disorganized means no longer orderly.


Is it disorganized or unorganized? Disorganized and unorganized are both adjectives that refer to states of messiness.

If something is disorganized, it used to be organized, but it isn’t anymore.

Think of the office of someone who lets work pile up over the course of the week.

In contrast, if something is unorganized, it was never organized in the first place, like the garbage in a dumpster.

To summarize,

  • Something that is disorganized was once organized.
  • Something that is unorganized was never organized.