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 Pollard’s too good not to put in positions to be a difference-maker. Dallas News, "10 truths from Cowboys’ loss: Despite the holes on defense, Dallas has found at least one playmaker," 4 Jan. 2021 There are some really key difference-maker issues now. Washington Post, "Good news for self-employed borrowers: Nonqualifying mortgages are staging a comeback," 4 Jan. 2021 Learning to take responsibility and be generous will make the difference in the long run. Annie Lane, oregonlive, "Dear Annie: Saying no to COVID holiday visits may ensure next year’s festivities," 4 Jan. 2021 There’s also the question of which forms of CBD are safe enough for consumers but strong enough to make a difference. Purbita Saha, Popular Science, "Can CBD help you chill? Here’s what we know so far.," 4 Jan. 2021 In fact, even the smallest design change, such as adding a new plant to your bedroom, can make a difference in your mood. Monique Valeris, Good Housekeeping, "How to Rethink Your Home's Decor in the New Year," 4 Jan. 2021 The parts are there for a tough-minded, 3-and-D difference maker. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Pistons aren't winning, but they're showing they nailed NBA draft, free agency," 30 Dec. 2020 One of two underclassmen on this team, along with her teammate Sophia Bonnaffee, Morris’ presence at the net was a difference maker for the Division III state champions. Joseph Halm, NOLA.com, "The 2020 All-St. Tammany Farmer Volleyball Team," 30 Dec. 2020 The Tide could use Billingsley to be a difference-maker in the offense in 2021, when the offense is expected to lose Smith, Waddle, Forristall and top running backs Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. Mike Rodak | Mrodak@al.com, al, "Tight end Jahleel Billingsley is Alabama’s unlikely leader in kick-return yardage," 29 Dec. 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

12 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Difference.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difference. Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

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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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Comments on difference

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