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

Fatal crash statistics kept by the State Patrol don't differentiate between drunken or drugged driving as the cause, but those numbers went from 67 in 2015 to 91 in 2017. Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, "What Michigan needs to learn from Colorado's legalized marijuana," 12 July 2018 So the National Geographic Society is the nonprofit part of ... Because people don’t differentiate. Recode Staff, Recode, "Full transcript: Nat Geo executives Courteney Monroe, Rachel Webber and Susan Goldberg on Recode Decode," 6 July 2018 But those totals do not differentiate between children who crossed the border unaccompanied and minors the government separated from their parents as part of the zero tolerance policy. David Yaffe-bellany, star-telegram, "Next to shelter, church's congregation defends family separations," 3 July 2018 Hitting seventh doesn’t differentiate Stassi from his brethren behind the dish. Michael Beller, SI.com, "Max Stassi Leads the Way on This Week's Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire," 1 June 2018 In other words, if there’s only a few RPI points separating two programs that are under consideration, for statistical purposes, that doesn’t differentiate them one way or the other. Edward Lee, baltimoresun.com, "Q&A with NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Committee chair John Hardt," 3 May 2018 Children between the ages of 12 and 17 accounted for 60% of children admitted for opioid poisoning, but the study did not differentiate between those who ingested opioids accidentally and those who did so on purpose. Hallie Detrick, Fortune, "Child Opioid Overdoses Have Nearly Doubled in 10 Years. Here's What You Can Do About It," 5 Mar. 2018 The state doesn’t differentiate between residential and commercial brokers. Mary Shanklin, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Gladstone buys ADP offices at Maitland Preserve," 4 Aug. 2017 Still, her loss will alter the alchemy of the series, stripping it of the mysterious storytelling element that differentiated the first season—and some of the second. Laura Bradley, HWD, "13 Reasons Why: Hannah Baker Isn’t Coming Back for Season 3," 25 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

9 Oct 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).


evasion of direct action or statement

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