dif·fer·ence | \ ˈdi-fərn(t)s , ˈdi-f(ə-)rən(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


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.


people who cannot difference God's will from their own selfish desires and prejudices
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Trumaine Johnson could be a difference maker at cornerback. Scott Horner, Indianapolis Star, "What you need to know about Colts vs. Jets," 13 July 2018 Despite their daily differences, even the British opposition party stepped up to defend May against Trump's comments. Fox News, "Trump's barbed comments upset British hosts," 13 July 2018 If players at those positions emerge as a scout team standouts, they could be used as difference-makers down the stretch in the final four games. Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal, "UK Insider: Which freshmen will play or sit this football season?," 10 July 2018 Congress’s two houses are currently resolving their differences, such as this amendment, and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry (R), expects a final version of the act to be agreed upon by the end of July. Story Hinckley, The Christian Science Monitor, "Group effort rules the roost in Wyoming, then Washington intervenes," 10 July 2018 The Rangers believe that Beltre, though 39 and no longer an iron man, is a still a difference-maker. Jeff Wilson, star-telegram, "Rangers continue to talk trades, but are they getting anywhere?," 9 July 2018 Our difference makes us superior—maybe that’s like an extreme version of a Malcolm X leader. Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica, "In new documentary, Ian McKellen reflects on Magneto, Gandalf," 8 July 2018 At a summit last week the EU’s heads of government again agreed to try to overcome their long-running differences over how to share responsibility for asylum-seekers who reach Europe. The Economist, "Europe is moving towards the tough immigration policies of Sebastian Kurz," 5 July 2018 Besides the Rockets players, difference-makers like DeMarcus Cousins and J.J. Redick also are available. Matt Young, Houston Chronicle, "Who's left?: Best NBA free agents still available," 3 July 2018

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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Last Updated

30 Aug 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for difference

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

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More Definitions for difference



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 , 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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Comments on difference

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


a magnificent or impressive array

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