verb dis·tin·guish \ di-ˈstiŋ-(g)wish \
|Updated on: 12 Aug 2018

Definition of distinguish

1 : to perceive a difference in : mentally separate
  • so alike they could not be distinguished
2 a : 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 5) to
  • distinguished themselves as pioneers of hip-hop
d : characterize
  • recipes distinguished by simplicity
3 a : discern
  • distinguished a light in the distance
  • could barely distinguish them in the fog
b : to single out : take special notice of
: to perceive a difference
  • distinguish between right and wrong


play \-ˌstiŋ-(g)wi-shə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ noun


play \-ˈstiŋ-(g)wi-shə-bəl\ adjective


play \-blē\ adverb

Examples of distinguish in a Sentence

  1. You're old enough to distinguish between fact and fantasy.

  2. I have trouble distinguishing between the two of them.

  3. I have trouble distinguishing the difference between the two of them.

  4. You should be able to distinguish fact from fantasy.

  5. The only thing that distinguishes the dogs is their bark.

  6. The singer's voice is what distinguishes the band.

  7. You can't distinguish the detail from this distance.

Recent Examples of distinguish from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

DISTINGUISH Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of distinguish for English Language Learners

  • : 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

DISTINGUISH Defined for Kids


verb dis·tin·guish \ di-ˈstiŋ-gwish \

Definition of distinguish for Students

distinguished; distinguishing
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.

Law Dictionary


transitive verb dis·tin·guish

legal Definition of distinguish

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

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fullness to the point of excess

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