dis·​tin·​guish | \ di-ˈstiŋ-(g)wish How to pronounce distinguish (audio) \
distinguished; distinguishing; distinguishes

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 4) 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 \ di-​ˌstiŋ-​(g)wi-​shə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce distinguish (audio) \ noun
distinguishable \ di-​ˈstiŋ-​(g)wi-​shə-​bəl How to pronounce distinguish (audio) \ adjective
distinguishably \ di-​ˈstiŋ-​(g)wi-​shə-​blē How to pronounce distinguish (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for distinguish



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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 The government estimates that 11.4 million were living in the country illegally as of January 2018 but doesn’t distinguish between how many entered legally and stayed after their visas expired and how many arrived illegally. Stephen Singer, courant.com, "Undocumented immigrants protest in Hartford, demanding Biden do more to provide citizenship," 1 May 2021 Such pauses wouldn't be reflected in the Gun Violence Archive data, which doesn't distinguish domestic and gang shootings from more public incidents. NBC News, "Gun violence is up. It's been up for more than a year.," 26 Apr. 2021 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, further confusing the pop audience that cannot distinguish between political principal, historical misrepresentation, media manipulation, and their own generational restlessness. Armond White, National Review, "H.E.R.’s Gimmicky Corporate Protest Songs," 16 Apr. 2021 Kubernetes doesn’t clearly distinguish between developers and operators. Janakiram Msv, Forbes, "Why Kubernetes Developer Ecosystem Needs A PaaS?," 12 Apr. 2021 In the months and years to come, Fed leaders will have to clearly and openly distinguish between temporary pops in prices, and more persistent inflationary trends. Washington Post, "What used cars tell us about the risk of too much inflation hitting the economy," 13 Mar. 2021 To analyze the latrines’ contents, the researchers first had to distinguish the gut microbes from those normally found in the surrounding soil. Livia Gershon, Smithsonian Magazine, "Archaeologists Mine Medieval Toilets for Traces of Gut Microbiomes," 8 Oct. 2020 Arradondo and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Thursday sought to distinguish their officers from the ones working in Brooklyn Center and noted their department hadn't been involved in protests there. Liz Navratil, Star Tribune, "Minneapolis chief: Each agency has own standards for use of tear gas and projectiles to control crowds," 15 Apr. 2021 Of the 13 mutations that distinguish the spike protein of the Tanzanian variant from the original Wuhan strain, eight are found in the B.1 family of variants. William A. Haseltine, Forbes, "New Tanzanian Variant Detected In Angola From An Entirely New Branch Of SARS-CoV-2," 15 Apr. 2021

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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Time Traveler for distinguish

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for distinguish

Last Updated

4 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Distinguish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distinguish. Accessed 9 May. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce distinguish (audio) \
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

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