dif·​fer·​ence | \ ˈdi-f(ə-)rən(t)s How to pronounce difference (audio) , ˈdi-fərn(t)s \

Definition of difference

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the quality or state of being dissimilar or different the difference between right and wrong
b : an instance of being unlike or distinct in nature, form, or quality noted the differences in color and texture
c archaic : a characteristic that distinguishes one from another or from the average … an absolute gentleman, full of the most excellent differences— William Shakespeare
d : the element or factor that separates or distinguishes contrasting situations Timing is often the difference between success and failure.
2 : distinction or discrimination in preference
3a : disagreement in opinion : dissension
b : an instance or cause of disagreement unable to settle their differences
4 mathematics : the degree or amount by which things differ in quantity or measure specifically : remainder sense 2b(1)
5 : a significant change in or effect on a situation it makes no difference to me


differenced; differencing

Definition of difference (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: differentiate, distinguish … every individual has something that differences it from another …— John Locke

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Examples of difference in a Sentence

Noun She knows the difference between right and wrong. There's no difference between the two houses. They look exactly the same. There's a big difference in price. Verb people who cannot difference God's will from their own selfish desires and prejudices
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun There’s a big difference between big restaurants and small restaurants. Claire Ballor, Dallas News, "Take-out business soaring at Dallas restaurants in spite of reopened dining rooms," 15 May 2020 Anyone in the business of making chips knows that little things can make a big difference. Dan Gallagher, WSJ, "What a Small Chip Fab Really Buys," 15 May 2020 In the most general terms, a big difference between an epidemic or pandemic and an endemic virus is predictability. Amber Brenza, Health.com, "What Is an Endemic Virus? WHO Warns COVID-19 'May Never Go Away'," 14 May 2020 Whether that’s sewing a few face masks to donate (our easy face mask instructions can help you get started) or finding ways to volunteer from home, even small efforts can make a big difference. Emily Vanschmus, Better Homes & Gardens, "16 Uplifting Quotes to Help You Stay Positive This Week," 13 May 2020 There’s a big difference between living alone, even when that’s your preferred lifestyle, and being alone all the time, through a pandemic, no less. Glynnis Macnicol, Glamour, "It's Okay to Say You Wish You Weren't Alone Right Now," 13 May 2020 After the pandemic, what will make a big difference in mental-health treatment is whether patients get their choice of therapy. Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, "Why Your Shrink Wasn’t Offering Virtual Therapy Until Now," 12 May 2020 Something as simple as adjusting the position, distance, or direction of your microphone could make a big difference. Popular Science, "Zoom fatigue is real. Here’s what to do about it.," 12 May 2020 But going to those 10th-gen CPUs and four Thunderbolt ports makes a big difference. Samuel Axon, Ars Technica, "2020 13-inch MacBook Pro review: The standard macOS workhorse," 12 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb But that’s largely attributed to the singular genius of coach Bill Belichick, who is famous for his ability to adapt his game plan and players to difference situations each week. Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Lions GM, coach should stop playing games and answer questions," 2 Mar. 2018 For the days closest to the equinox, the Harvest Moon rise occurs between 30 and 35 minutes difference each day, as opposed to the normal 50 minutes through most of the rest of the year. Richard Tribou, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Rare October Harvest Moon rises tonight," 5 Oct. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'difference.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of difference


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for difference


Middle English, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin differentia "distinction, distinguishing characteristic," from different-, differens, present participle of differre "to carry in varying directions, delay, differ" + -ia -ia entry 1

Note: Latin differentia was used by Cicero and others as an equivalent of Greek diaphorá, a nominal derivative of diaphérein (see note at differ).


derivative of difference entry 1

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Learn More about difference

Time Traveler for difference

Time Traveler

The first known use of difference was in the 14th century

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Statistics for difference

Last Updated

23 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Difference.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difference. Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for difference


How to pronounce difference (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of difference

: the quality that makes one person or thing unlike another
: something that people do not agree about : a disagreement in opinion
: the degree or amount by which things differ


dif·​fer·​ence | \ ˈdi-fə-rens How to pronounce difference (audio) , ˈdi-frəns \

Kids Definition of difference

1 : what makes two or more persons or things not the same I can't see any difference between the two designs.
2 : a disagreement about something They've always had their differences.
3 : the number that is left after subtracting one number from another The difference between six and four is two.
4 : an important change A tutor has made a difference in his grades.

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