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, 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

Likewise, François Messier Rheault’s caressing close-ups are intimately anonymous, the personalities beneath the popping veins only faintly differentiated. Denis Côté, New York Times, "Review: Six Strongmen Cultivate ‘A Skin So Soft’," 5 July 2018 Also in New York, at least three progressives challenging incumbent members of Congress have used the issue to differentiate themselves ahead of Tuesday's vote. NBC News, ""Abolish ICE!" is the new rallying cry for progressive Democrats," 22 June 2018 Back in 2013, the countries teamed up to launch a contest in China to find ways to help people differentiate the two. Chris Morris, Fortune, "NYSE Flies Wrong Flag to Honor Spotify's IPO," 3 Apr. 2018 Available in only black or yellow paintwork, the Heritage Edition is differentiated by unique interior accents and exterior decals that are reminiscent of those sometimes seen on Zs from the 1970s. Daniel Miller, latimes.com, "Nissan 370Z is a sports car anachronism — a fast one," 30 Mar. 2018 The most important thing to do while cold calling, and sales as a whole, for that matter, is to differentiate yourself. Steve Jagler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Jagler: The Cold Call Coach helps salespeople maximize their first impression with prospective customers," 13 July 2018 But where Octopath really differentiates itself is with its story and structure. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "Octopath Traveler is a modern take on classic Final Fantasy on the Nintendo Switch," 12 July 2018 But like his predecessors, Trump also faces a grim calculus: What differentiates a devastating crime from a truly national tragedy? Gregory Korte, USA TODAY, "Trump faces flag dilemma: When should it be lowered to half-staff?," 2 July 2018 What differentiates the organization is its remarkable political power. Jackson Holahan, The Christian Science Monitor, "'The Good Mothers' profiles the female prosecutor who took on Italy's mafia," 6 June 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

11 Sep 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).


the setting in which something occurs

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