Word Choice – Mistrust Versus Distrust

Mary’s question: “I am never quite sure when to use ‘distrust’ versus ‘mistrust.’ Are they interchangeable, or do they each have specific usages/meanings?”

BizWritingTip response: There is a fine line between these two words. Based on the Oxford Dictionary, distrust as a noun means “suspicion or lack of trust.” Mistrust means “suspicion or lack of confidence.” Therefore, when you are using them as nouns they are almost interchangeable.

Examples

I have a great mistrust of the new technology. (lack of confidence)

I have a great distrust of the new technology. (lack of trust)

However, when you are using them as verbs the difference is a little clearer. Mistrust suggests vague doubts while distrust is stronger suggesting definite suspicions and even a complete lack of trust. In other words, if I mistrust someone, I’m suspicious of them. If I distrust someone, I have a good reason why I don’t trust them.

Examples

He says he is happy with the decision, but I mistrust his statement. (I have some doubts.)

Based on my talks with the customer, I distrust his statement that he can sell more products to them this year. (I have a reason for my doubts.)

I hope you don’t mistrust this tip.

1 reply
  1. rs1123
    rs1123 says:

    I see ‘mistrust’ as a past tense verb primarily. Example: “I mistrusted my brother in law with my retirement funds; he invested the money poorly and it was lost.” To me it means mostly ‘mistaken trust’. On the other hand I regard distrust as a feeling of not trusting someone BEFORE the fact. “I distrust people who claim they can make me wealthy with a small investment.”

    Reply

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