dis·tin·guish | \ di-ˈstiŋ-(g)wish \

Definition of distinguish 

transitive verb

1 : to perceive a difference in : mentally separate so alike they could not be distinguished

2a : to mark as separate or different a policy that distinguishes him from other candidates

b : to separate into kinds, classes, or categories distinguish words by their part of speech

c : to make noteworthy or remarkable : to give prominence or distinction (see distinction sense 5) to distinguished themselves as pioneers of hip-hop

d : characterize recipes distinguished by simplicity

3a : discern distinguished a light in the distance could barely distinguish them in the fog

b : to single out : take special notice of

intransitive verb

: to perceive a difference distinguish between right and wrong

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Other words from distinguish

distinguishability \-ˌstiŋ-(g)wi-shə-ˈbi-lə-tē \ noun
distinguishable \-ˈstiŋ-(g)wi-shə-bəl \ adjective
distinguishably \-blē \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for distinguish


difference, differentiate, discern, discriminate, separate


confuse, mistake, mix (up)

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Examples of distinguish in a Sentence

You're old enough to distinguish between fact and fantasy. I have trouble distinguishing between the two of them. I have trouble distinguishing the difference between the two of them. You should be able to distinguish fact from fantasy. The only thing that distinguishes the dogs is their bark. The singer's voice is what distinguishes the band. You can't distinguish the detail from this distance.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Modern paleontologists often refer to those extinct dinosaurs as non-avian -- that is, non-bird -- dinosaurs to distinguish them from avian dinosaurs, the ones with feathers that fly and yodel in the spring. Steven Austad, AL.com, "Dinosaurs in the garden," 14 Apr. 2018 You’re being asked to distinguish yourself in love. Bess Matassa, Teen Vogue, "Weekly Horoscopes April 2-8," 5 Apr. 2018 While none of the pitching candidates distinguished themselves in camp, Brinson made the decision easy with his performance and progress. Craig Davis, Sun-Sentinel.com, "Lewis Brinson goes from Coral Spring High to Marlins starter in center," 25 Mar. 2018 The release of tax returns became an issue ahead of the June primary as Democrats sought to distinguish themselves from President Trump, who sidestepped tradition by refusing to make his filings public during his 2016 campaign. Steve Thompson, Washington Post, "Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan releases tax returns showing $939K in income last year," 6 July 2018 Now After six months, the groups showed no significant differences in general measures of cognitive ability — things like IQ, memory and attention span — but the piano group had distinguished itself in one key way. Jamie Ducharme, Time, "Why You Should Enroll Your Kids in Piano Lessons, According to Science," 1 July 2018 Justine has since faded from public view, while Serena has distinguished herself as one of the greatest athletes of all time. Jon Wertheim, SI.com, "Mailbag: Grass Court Season, Equal Pay and the Fed-Rafa Documentary," 20 June 2018 In the past, the candidates have spent most of their time attacking incumbent Republican Larry Hogan rather than distinguishing themselves from competitors. Erin Cox, baltimoresun.com, "Democratic candidates for Maryland governor to debate today as campaign enters final stretch," 5 June 2018 When law enforcement’s biggest problem is proactively identifying who gang members are, and distinguishing them from their victims, the solution has to involve talking to community members more. Dara Lind, Vox, "MS-13, explained," 21 May 2018

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

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for distinguish

alteration of Middle English distinguen, from Anglo-French distinguer, from Latin distinguere, literally, to separate by pricking, from dis- + -stinguere (akin to Latin instigare to urge on) — more at stick

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Phrases Related to distinguish

as distinguished from

distinguish oneself

Statistics for distinguish

Last Updated

9 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for distinguish

The first known use of distinguish was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for distinguish



English Language Learners Definition of distinguish

: to notice or recognize a difference between people or things

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

: to see or hear (someone or something) clearly


dis·tin·guish | \ di-ˈstiŋ-gwish \
distinguished; distinguishing

Kids Definition of distinguish

1 : to recognize one thing from others by some mark or quality He distinguished the sound of the piano in the orchestra.

2 : to hear or see clearly You can't distinguish her face in this photo.

3 : to know the difference Can you distinguish between right and wrong?

4 : to set apart as different or special She distinguished herself by heroic actions.


transitive verb

Legal Definition of distinguish 

: to identify or explain differences in or from distinguished the cases on factual grounds

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Comments on distinguish

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


alleviating pain or harshness

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