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Imbalanced vs. Unbalanced: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on October 18, 2023
Imbalanced often refers to a lack of fairness or equality in distribution, while Unbalanced generally means lacking steadiness, stability, or symmetry.

Key Differences

Imbalanced is a term that's frequently used to highlight a disproportionate distribution or arrangement. When something is imbalanced, it indicates there's an unequal representation or unfairness present. Unbalanced, on the other hand, typically implies a lack of physical stability or equilibrium. While both words suggest a form of inequality, their context of usage differs.
In the realm of data science, Imbalanced is commonly used to describe datasets where one class of data significantly outnumbers the others. This could mean, for instance, having many positive samples and very few negative ones. Unbalanced, while it can also be used in similar contexts, is more often associated with something physically or mentally unstable, like an unbalanced diet or an unbalanced individual.
The word Imbalanced can be employed in describing situations like an imbalanced seesaw, where one side is significantly heavier than the other. However, this can also be described as an Unbalanced seesaw, emphasizing the lack of physical balance. The difference is subtle, but imbalanced leans more towards the conceptual side, while unbalanced emphasizes the physical or tangible aspect.
When talking about feelings or mental states, saying someone is Imbalanced might mean they lack a fair or equal distribution of emotions. Meanwhile, describing someone as Unbalanced leans more towards the notion of instability in their mental state or emotions.
Both Imbalanced and Unbalanced can be used interchangeably in some scenarios. However, careful selection based on context can convey the intended message more precisely.

Comparison Chart

Context of Usage

Often conceptual, e.g., data distribution.
Usually physical or tangible.

Common Domains

Data science, fairness, equality.
Physics, mental states, stability.

Prefix Origin

"Im-" denotes "not."
"Un-" denotes a reversal or absence.




Lacks fairness or equality in distribution.
Lacks steadiness, stability, or symmetry.

Imbalanced and Unbalanced Definitions


Being out of equilibrium
The scales were imbalanced, with one side weighing more.


Not symmetrical
The design looks unbalanced with more detail on one side.


Not proportionate or equal
The team had an imbalanced ratio of rookies to veterans.


Uneven in force or effect
The unbalanced forces caused the structure to collapse.


Lacking fairness or equality in distribution
The votes were imbalanced in favor of the incumbent.


Lacking physical steadiness or stability
The table is unbalanced; one leg is shorter.


Uneven in manner or occurrence
The rainfall this year has been imbalanced.


Mentally or emotionally unstable
His remarks were seen as coming from an unbalanced mind.


Having an unequal representation
The seminar had an imbalanced gender distribution.


Without equilibrium or harmony
The ecosystem became unbalanced due to pollution.


A lack of balance, as in distribution or functioning.


Not in balance or in proper balance.


Experiencing an imbalance; out of balance.


Not evenly or properly distributed
An unbalanced allotment of resources.


Being or thrown out of equilibrium


Showing or marked by erratic or volatile emotions or behavior.


(Accounting) Not satisfactorily adjusted so that debit and credit correspond.


Not treating all sides with due importance
Unbalanced reporting in the press.


Not balanced, without equilibrium; dizzy


Irrational or mentally deranged


(accounting) not adjusted such that debit and credit correspond


(computing) of an expression having different numbers of left and right parentheses


(American football) an offensive line with more players on one side of the center than on the other


Simple past tense and past participle of unbalance


Not balanced; not in equipoise; having no counterpoise, or having insufficient counterpoise.
Let Earth unbalanced from her orbit fly.


Not adjusted; not settled; not brought to an equality of debt and credit; as, an unbalanced account; unbalanced books.


Being, or being thrown, out of equilibrium; hence, disordered or deranged in sense; unsteady; unsound; as, an unbalanced mind.


Being or thrown out of equilibrium


Affected with madness or insanity;
A man who had gone mad


Debits and credits are not equal


Is "imbalanced" always about fairness?

No, imbalanced can also relate to unequal representation or distribution.

Can "unbalanced" refer to mental states?

Yes, someone can be described as mentally unbalanced.

Can I use "imbalanced" for data distribution?

Yes, it's commonly used to describe datasets with uneven class distributions.

What's a synonym for "unbalanced"?

"Unsteady" is one of many synonyms for unbalanced.

Which term is more related to data science?

"Imbalanced" is more commonly used, especially regarding datasets.

Can a seesaw be described as imbalanced?

Yes, if one side is significantly heavier or lighter than the other.

Would you use "imbalanced" for a wobbly table?

While possible, "unbalanced" would be more appropriate.

Can both terms be used interchangeably?

Sometimes, but context matters for conveying the precise meaning.

Is "imbalanced diet" a correct term?

Yes, it means the diet lacks certain nutrients or has them in wrong proportions.

Which word describes lack of symmetry better?

"Unbalanced" is more apt for lack of symmetry.

Is "unbalanced" only used for physical objects?

No, it can also describe mental or emotional states.

Can I say "imbalanced emotions"?

Yes, it means there's a lack of fairness or equality in one's emotions.

Does "unbalanced" imply something negative?

Generally, yes. It suggests a lack of stability or symmetry.

Which word is more about the conceptual side of things?

"Imbalanced" often leans more conceptual, like in distribution.

Would "imbalanced forces" be a correct usage?

Yes, it indicates forces are not equal in magnitude or direction.

Is "unbalanced" always negative?

Generally, it indicates a lack or reversal of balance, which is often negative.

What is the origin of the prefix in "imbalanced"?

The prefix "Im-" usually denotes "not."

Do both words have similar origins?

Both prefixes, "Im-" and "Un-", indicate negation, but their specific nuances can differ.

Is an "unbalanced diet" harmful?

Generally, yes. It implies the diet is missing essential nutrients.

Can "unbalanced" mean lacking harmony?

Yes, it can mean a lack of harmony or equilibrium.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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