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"Once your registration expires, your vehicle becomes unregistered."

When I read the sentence, the word "unregistered" got me thinking, because "unregistered" means "not registered", in other words "never written on a paper or on any medium" In the case of cars, I would understand that an unregistered car would be a car which has just came out of manufacturing process, and has not been bought by anyone yet. And it will be registered when somebody buys it.

Or it may be that your move to another state, and in that case your car is unregistered in that new state, because it was never registered there. So it makes sense.

However, when it comes to a car which has already been registered in a book or other medium, the word "unregistered" sounds weird. We know that they were actually registered some time in the past, and -as part of that registration- they were appointed or given a time period. It is only that this time period has expired, but the registration is still there.

So, the registration has not disappeared or has not become extinct. In fact registration is still on the same paper (or whatever medium it was written on) with only a warning that time period appointed has expired.

To sum up, it is not the registrations that expire, but it is the time period that expires, and this time period is not the whole registration. It is only one of the many fields that comprise the registration which consists of many fields (name, date of production, brand etc). Even if that period has expired, the registration about that car is still there and the book or the database will continue to have a registration about that specific car. Just like a student who graduates from a school does not become "unregistered". His registration at the school will always stay there. An unregistered student would be one who has never started at that specific school.

Considering all these logic, why call these cars "unregistered cars" instead of something like "cars whose appointed time has expired"?

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  • This sounds weird to a Brit too. I'd use the term licensed in both instances, but these are terms that develop a life of their own in different territories. Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:08
  • @DoneWithThis. Yes, unlicenced sounds better to me, too.
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:10
  • There is a similar confusing element in British car plates. The plate is the license plate, though the letters & numbers on it are the vehicle's registration number;) That number [& corresponding publicly visible plate] never expires. The road tax is a completely separate item, which used to have a paper ticket visible in the windscreen, but is now policed entirely by a National database & road-side cameras. Same for the vehicle's 'fitness to be driven' certificate [MOT]. Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:16
  • @yunus - in British English, 'licence' is the noun (I have a licence) and 'license' is the verb (my car is licensed or unlicensed). In US English it is 'license' for both noun and verb, so there is no word spelled 'licenced' in either version of English. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 10:02
  • @DoneWithThis. UK cars have 'number plates', not 'license (or licence) plates'. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 10:03

2 Answers 2

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You are wrong that "un-X" means "never having been X" There is no such logic.

It is quite natural to express the idea that "a car whose period of registration has ended" as "unregistered car".

An "undressed person" is not a person who has never worn clothes. It is a person who has removed their clothes. There are many other examples which show that "un-" means "not currently" and doesn't mean "never".

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  • I think It is because of the word "register" in my mind. Maybe it is because of my native language, something can be registered only once, and then some time later it may get deregistered, but it wont get unregistered. Unregistered gives me impression that it went back to the state before registration, the time when it was never placed on the list. We, in our native language, use "unregistered" for things that are never placed on a list or record. May be I should use "unwritten" for that. Ok whatever, thanks for the answer. I now understand
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:07
  • Also, look at the comment of Donewiththis above. He/She says "This sounds weird to a Brit too. I'd use the term licensed in both instances". So, maybe some Brits think me like that, too :)
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:11
  • @yunus see the top answer here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/25931/…
    – Evene
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 21:44
  • @Evene, thank you very much. I have read the answers. yes, that was what I was trying to say. I completely agree. Anyway, I appreciate your help.
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 22:58
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Unregistered does not mean "never written on paper, or any medium". You could maybe use unwritten for that.

From Cambridge dictionary online:

register: to put information, especially your name, into an official list or record

When you register your car, it gets put on the official list of vehicles that can be driven on public roads. When your registration expires, your car gets deregistered - taken off the official list. It is now unregistered - not on the official list.

It's useful to have a single word to describe this state, rather than an elaborate phrase.

Second point: when a website gives you a sentence like that, especially a government website, they are telling you what that word means in their writing. Even if you didn't know what the word meant, or thought it meant something else, now you know what it means. That's why they put that sentence there.

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  • In the UK, when a doctor has been found guilty of serious medical misconduct the official body that registers doctors will say that their name has been 'erased from the register', and popularly people say that they have been 'struck off'. Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 8:28
  • @Evene, "deregistered" sounds better. It reflects the process, first it gets put on the list, and then taken out. But "unregistered" for some reason gives me the impression that something was never put on the list.
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 9:00

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