Mistrust vs. Distrust: What’s the Difference?

Mistrust vs. distrust express a lack of trust but aren’t the same. Learn their subtle differences and discover how these words confuse many English learners.

Mistrust vs. distrust — surely, there’s a difference between these words, right? After all, English is the most powerful language.

Speakers and writers of English are spoiled by the myriad of words at their disposal, and it is important to select your turn of phrase with precision, to communicate your meaning accurately.

There are many examples of switchable words that don’t share exact definitions. Such is the case in mistrust and distrust. They are different words with similar meanings and the slightest of distinctions.

With so many delectable terms to choose from, the exploration of the English language is a fascinating journey. See our list of deep words to convey strong messages and engross your readers!

Trust: Origin and Meaning

Mistrust vs. Distrust
The most updated definition of trust is unwavering conviction in the dependability, honesty, competence, or fortitude of someone or something

To fully understand the nuance of mistrust and distrust, let’s scrutinize its root word first — trust. Etymology Dictionary credits the word “Trust” to the following:

As a noun
  • The Old Norse word traust, meaning “help, confidence, protection, or support”
  • The Proto-germanic abstract noun traustam, meaning “comfort, or consolation”
  • The Old High German trost, meaning “trust or fidelity”
As a verb
  • The Old Norse word treysta, meaning “to trust, rely on, or make strong and safe”

With such a rich history of origin, it’s unsurprising that the Oxford University Press lists 17 meanings under the noun trust and 12 under its verb form.

The most updated definition of trust is “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”

The Prefixes Mis- and Dis-

Prefixes are affixes placed at the beginning of a root word to modify its meaning. Common prefixes mis- and dis- turn root words into the negative. Here’s how they vary:

Prefix “mis-” from Old French, Latin, and Germanic languages suggests:

  • Bad(ly), wrong(ly) as in mistrial
  • Divergent, astray as in misbehave
  • In a changed manner, as in misinform

Meanwhile, the Latin prefix “dis-” means:

  • Lack of, as in disloyal
  • Opposite of, do the opposite of, as in disobey
  • Apart, away as in disband

Then, for the sake of distinction, mis- hints at something one can adjust or correct. It’s not an absolute end or absence of something or someone. For instance, a mistrial happens when there’s misconduct or procedural error. It will be corrected by holding a new trial.

In contrast, dis- is grave and conclusive. For instance, when a group disbands, it signals a decisive resolution.

Check our list of root words. Learning root words will improve your vocabulary and help you understand the origins of the English language.

When to Use Mistrust

If the prefix mis- means bad or changed, then mistrust is “bad trust” or “changed trust.” It is a lack of trust. This interpretation implies someone or something never had your trust in the first place or once had it.

Why would you automatically trust anything anyway? People are naturally afraid of the unknown. It’s instinct. This wariness is important to protect yourself from possible dangers or threats.

Just think back to when the COVID-19 vaccine first rolled out. Many had concerns about its possible side effects, particularly given the limited development and trial period.

  • Example: Granpa mistrusts the vaccine.

Mistrust can also refer to trust that faltered or lessened.

  • Example: She cheated with a coworker. I believe she deserves her husband’s mistrust.

More Examples of Mistrust

Examine how the following examples from the web used mistrust:

Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites

  • “Do different design and information content factors influence trust and mistrust of online health sites?”

The Legacy of Tuskegee and Trust in Medical Care: Is Tuskegee Responsible for Race Differences in Mistrust of Medical Care?

  • “Our results cast doubt on the proposition that the widely documented race difference in mistrust of medical care results from the Tuskegee study. Rather, race differences in mistrust likely stem from broader historical and personal experiences.”

When to Use Distrust

When to use distrust?
The prefix dis- means lack of, so distrust signals a complete breakdown of trust

The prefix dis- means lack of, so distrust is “lack of trust.” Use distrust to show finality. It invokes strong feelings spurred by indisputable proof or confirmation.

But how can you be so sure that someone or something doesn’t deserve your trust? Experience and evidence. If mistrust is the lack of trust, distrust is the complete lack of trust.

  • Example: My deep distrust of my uncle started when he lied about his medical bills. He never went to the hospital, he just wanted to be a moocher.
  • Example: Mayor Adams continues to make questionable decisions since declaring New York a Sanctuary City. Today, many Americans distrust his capacity to solve the city’s migrant crisis. (Based on evidence such as press releases, interviews, etc.)

More Examples of Distrust

The following examples from online sources use distrust with supporting evidence.

Trust and Distrust in E-Commerce

  • “In the e-commerce context, the opportunity for trust and distrust exists between not only the buyer and the seller but also between the buyer and the intermediary through which the monetary transactions flow.

Something’s Fishy

  • “In one not-yet-published study, volunteers read either a neutral article about raising pigeons, or an essay designed to inspire distrust about government activities. Both groups saw pop-up ads for a popular diaper as they scrolled through the articles. Later, when asked to answer questions about consumer products, those who read the government criticism were more likely to name a competing diaper brand, not the one they had seen ads for, Mayo says. ‘In a distrust situation, people think of alternatives.’“

Mistrust vs. Distrust

Mistrust heavily relies on connotation. In semiology, or the study of signs (verbal and nonverbal) and sign-using behavior, connotation refers to how individuals interpret signs based on sociocultural and personal associations.

Mistrust is the general feeling of unease influenced by our upbringing and environment. It includes any learned bias not necessarily connected to one’s experiences. Suspicion is key in mistrust.

In contrast, distrust is linked to facts. These facts can be from reliable sources such as official government websites or an individual’s lived experience. Distrust emphasizes inferences and requires logic and evidence.

Some may argue that as these words are virtually the same, they may as well be synonyms. Mistrust and distrust both refer to a lack of trust. While misusing either word will not push you to break any English grammar rules, it does ignore the fact that the multiplicity of English words allows you to inform your reader on a deeper level.

The Engish language is born of us, of our history and culture. It would be a shame not to exploit it to full advantage.

Mistrustful vs. Distrustful

Mistrustful and distrustful are the adjective forms of mistrust and distrust.

Use mistrust when you’re unsure of someone or something’s trustworthiness. You don’t need to have any evidence to support the why. Use distrust if you know why you don’t trust someone or something.

You have the evidence to back up your why.


  • I am mistrustful of his intentions, it’s just a gut feeling.
  • Having proven herself unreliable on multiple occasions, I am now distrustful of her ability.


  • Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.