verb \di-ˈstiŋ-(g)wish\

: to notice or recognize a difference between people or things

: to make (someone or something) different or special in some way

: to see or hear (someone or something) clearly

Full Definition of DISTINGUISH

transitive verb
:  to perceive a difference in :  mentally separate <so alike they could not be distinguished>
a :  to mark as separate or different <a policy that distinguishes him from other candidates>
b :  to separate into kinds, classes, or categories <distinguish words by their part of speech>
c :  to give prominence or distinction to <distinguished themselves in music>
d :  characterize <recipes distinguished by simplicity>
a :  discern <distinguished a light in the distance>
b :  to single out :  take special notice of
intransitive verb
:  to perceive a difference <distinguish between right and wrong>
dis·tin·guish·abil·i·ty \-ˌstiŋ-(g)wi-shə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ noun
dis·tin·guish·able \-ˈstiŋ-(g)wi-shə-bəl\ adjective
dis·tin·guish·ably \-blē\ adverb


  1. You're old enough to distinguish between fact and fantasy.
  2. I have trouble distinguishing between the two of them.
  3. I have trouble distinguishing the difference between the two of them.
  4. You should be able to distinguish fact from fantasy.
  5. The only thing that distinguishes the dogs is their bark.
  6. The singer's voice is what distinguishes the band.
  7. You can't distinguish the detail from this distance.


alteration of Middle English distinguen, from Anglo-French distinguer, from Latin distinguere, literally, to separate by pricking, from dis- + -stinguere (akin to Latin instigare to urge on) — more at stick
First Known Use: 15th century


Next Word in the Dictionary: distinguished
Previous Word in the Dictionary: distingué
All Words Near: distinguish

Seen & Heard

What made you want to look up distinguish? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).