Star as Interesting; seems legit Unstar as Interesting; huh?

These are normal common messages most of us who've chatted in SE chat interfaces have seen. I find the way the negation prefix un- "acts" intriguing.

  1. Why would I star and unstar a chat message as interesting? Does "unstar as interesting" mean that I unstarred the message because it was interesting? But that doesn't make sense, even though it does regarding "star as interesting".
  2. How does "un-" function in these two phrases? It seems to me that it's more like un-[star as interesting] but how is that possible? How can a prefix modify a whole sentence, as opposed to modifying only the verb phrase [star]? I'm sorry if I don't know what I'm talking about; I ran into trouble trying to analyze this.

I'm more interested in the grammatical explanation behind the acceptability of the sentence "unstar as interesting" and how it could possibly mean, if it does, "to remove the star from a message previously starred due to being interesting". Please don't deviate much into the meaning nuances and/or possible replacements.

  • 6
    I think you're right that the correct reading is "un-[star as interesting]", and that the phrasing is not very clear or very good English. As for why it's that way, it's probably as much for programming reasons as anything else. If an operation is phrased as "verb noun", then the easiest, most obvious way to phrase the opposite, undo operation is "un-verb noun". And it's easier to code if every "verb noun" can be transformed into "un-verb noun" without having to worry about what the most fluent way to phrase it is!
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 19:45
  • Who decided that the phrase is acceptable? Software bugs do exist.
    – JB King
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 19:48
  • @JBK someone who knows what they're talking about told me that it's totally acceptable. If it is not, then what kind of phrasing do you suggest to mean "unstar something that you starred as interesting before" in a convenient way that fits a short message?
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 19:54
  • 1
    I personally prefer the present unstar message to any other that I can think of. "as interesting" is descriptive of the star, not the action. And I get that's basically equivalent to making "un-" reverse the meaning of the entire phrase, and I'm okay with that. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 22:11
  • 1
    The only acceptable alternative, though I still don't prefer it, is "unstar as uninteresting". Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


To answer your questions:

  1. Why would I star and unstar a chat message as interesting?

Because in this particular case, the trait of "interesting" is being used as a quality that can be given and taken from an otherwise neutral state. A message without a star isn't necessarily uninteresting, it's just not interesting enough to warrant a star.

  1. How does "un-" funciton in these two phrases?

The prefix negates the word "star" as a verb, making the action negative. Thus, you un-attribute a star, whose significance is to denote interest.

Implied: That isn't intuitive at all! Are you sure that's what it means?

In all honesty, I can't rule out the possibility of the wording being a glitch in the software.

That being said, as stated, the easiest comparison I can provide is the Upvote on this very site. I can star a question as relevant with an upvote, or I can unstar a question as relevant by removing said upvote. However, until I actually downvote it (a.k.a. star as irrelevant), I'm not calling the message irrelevant.


As interesting doesn't describe the activity of starring, but it's describing an implied "this."

Unstar this as interesting

but this is elided because it's already in a previous sentence. It's assumed that the object can be understood from context. This is fine and happens all the time in conversations. This text was written conversationally to be friendly.

Un- means to reverse an action, or take an action that negates a previous action or effect. You can't undo something that wasn't done in the first place.

If you "unstar as uninteresting", you are reversing "uninteresting", not "interesting." "Unstar as uninteresting" would only make sense if you could "star as interesting."

  • So "unstar as interesting" makes sense since un- negates the whole "star as interesting"; right?
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 5:17

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