dif·​fer·​en·​ti·​ate | \ˌdi-fə-ˈren(t)-shē-ˌāt \
differentiated; differentiating

Definition of differentiate 

transitive verb

1 mathematics : to obtain the mathematical derivative (see derivative entry 1 sense 3) of

2 : to mark or show a difference in : constitute a contrasting element that distinguishes features that differentiate the twins how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors

3 : to develop differential or distinguishing characteristics in What differentiated a laborer from another man …— Sherwood Anderson

4 biology : to cause differentiation (see differentiation sense 3b) of in the course of development cells that are differentiated from stem cells

5 : to express the specific distinguishing quality of : discriminate differentiate poetry and prose

intransitive verb

1 : to recognize or give expression to a difference difficult to differentiate between the two

2 : to become distinct or different in character

3 biology : to undergo differentiation (see differentiation sense 3b) when the cells begin to differentiate

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Other Words from differentiate

differentiability \ -​ˌren(t)-​sh(ē-​)ə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē \ noun
differentiable \ -​ˈren(t)-​sh(ē-​)ə-​bəl \ adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for differentiate


difference, discern, discriminate, distinguish, secern, separate


confuse, mistake, mix (up)

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Examples of differentiate in a Sentence

The only thing that differentiates the twins is the color of their eyes. it was hard at first to differentiate between the two styles of music

Recent Examples on the Web

The study differentiated between demand, specifically focused on current utilization rates, and the total number of individuals in need of care, which takes national data related to unmet need into consideration. Hannah Holzer, sacbee, "California needs more mental health professionals – and the shortage will get worse, experts say," 11 July 2018 Yes, even for a telephone interview, differentiate yourself from other candidates. Pattie Hunt Sinacole, BostonGlobe.com, "Before even an initial interview, do your homework," 16 June 2018 That differentiates it from shale plays like the Eagle Ford or Permian that have been the target of U.S. drilling in recent years. Alex Nussbaum, Houston Chronicle, "Aging oil play getting new life," 15 June 2018 That differentiates it from two other forms of MAT meant to treat an underlying addiction but that often mitigate withdrawal symptoms: methadone and buprenorphine. Lev Facher, STAT, "In a first, FDA approves drug meant to mitigate symptoms of opioid withdrawal," 16 May 2018 Introverts can easily differentiate between what's worth their time and what’s worth letting go. K. Lori Hanson, Ph.d., miamiherald, "10 good reasons to celebrate your 'too sensitive' child | Miami Herald," 14 May 2018 In 1969, Congress passed the Tax Reform Act, which differentiated between public charities like food banks and universities, and private foundations, according to Madoff, the Boston College professor. Alana Semuels, The Atlantic, "Where Silicon Valley Puts Its Money," 14 May 2018 But can sharks, which are smarter than other fish, differentiate between music and associate tunes with food? Elaina Zachos, National Geographic, "Sharks Prefer Jazz Over Classical Music, Study Finds," 10 May 2018 And the bodies playing it are united in this beauty, even as time, space, gender, and color differentiate them. K. Austin Collins, HWD, "20 Years After Its Release, Spike Lee’s Basketball Epic He Got Game Remains Searing and Essential," 2 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'differentiate.' 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 differentiate

1814, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for differentiate

probably borrowed from Medieval Latin differentiātus, past participle of differentiāre "to distinguish" (New Latin in mathematical sense), verbal derivative of Latin differentia difference entry 1

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Statistics for differentiate

Last Updated

6 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for differentiate

The first known use of differentiate was in 1814

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More Definitions for differentiate



English Language Learners Definition of differentiate

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

: to see or state the difference or differences between two or more things


dif·​fer·​en·​ti·​ate | \ˌdi-fə-ˈren-shē-ˌāt \
differentiated; differentiating

Kids Definition of differentiate

1 : to make or become different What differentiates the cars?

2 : to recognize or state the difference between I can't differentiate the two colors.


dif·​fer·​en·​ti·​ate | \ˌdif-ə-ˈren-chē-ˌāt \
differentiated; differentiating

Medical Definition of differentiate 

transitive verb

1 : to constitute a difference that distinguishes the history of the injury also differentiates these two fractures— J. S. Keene et al

2 : to cause differentiation of in the course of development

3 : to discriminate or give expression to a specific difference that distinguishes quickly learned to differentiate sharp pain from dull pain

4 : to cause differentiation in (a specimen for microscopic examination) by staining

intransitive verb

1 : to recognize or express a difference differentiate between humans and the rest of the primates

2 : to undergo differentiation when a B cell matures, it differentiates into a plasma cell that secretes antibodies— R. C. Gallo

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Comments on differentiate

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


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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