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 distinguishability (audio) \ noun
distinguishable \ di-​ˈstiŋ-​(g)wi-​shə-​bəl How to pronounce distinguishable (audio) \ adjective
distinguishably \ di-​ˈstiŋ-​(g)wi-​shə-​blē How to pronounce distinguishably (audio) \ adverb

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 There is no set of specific standards or criteria that must be met, but each woman must have, in her own unique way, distinguished herself by making a difference in the BW community. Sam Boyer, cleveland, "Hinckley Township residents’ donation will aid Tri-C students: Campus Corner," 11 May 2020 Make a plan of spaces in your apartment, Bjurstam says, for working, for working out, for eating, for resting, and distinguish them. Megan Spurrell, Condé Nast Traveler, "What Can I Do to Make My Time Off Feel Like a Break?," 11 May 2020 The book insists that the best parts of a person are those that distinguish him or her from everyone else—and, more importantly, that no one has the right to determine how another person lives. Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker, "Discovering Katherine Dunn’s Unpublished Work," 4 May 2020 Before exhausting his eligibility with the Wolverines at the end of this past season, the 6-foot-4, 306-pound Runyan distinguished himself as one of the top linemen in the Big Ten. Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press, "Green Bay Packers take Michigan football OL Jon Runyan Jr. in Round 6 of 2020 NFL draft," 25 Apr. 2020 When the Bubonic Plague struck Milan from 1629 to 1631, the city’s Capuchin Franciscan friars distinguished themselves in running a hospital designated for victims of the disease. Francis X. Rocca, WSJ, "Italian Priests Struggle to Tend to Sick While Avoiding Contagion," 12 Mar. 2020 Geeta was the most successful in the early years, but Phogat was also starting to distinguish herself. The Economist, "In the ring with India’s most powerful woman," 25 Oct. 2019 Wanting to distinguish themselves, the Halal Guys started adding chicken over rice, a dish that really took off, catching the attention of NYC’s Muslim cab drivers, who became loyal fans. Rod Stafford Hagwood, sun-sentinel.com, "Halal Guys expands into Fort Lauderdale with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare," 25 Oct. 2019 The sufferer can see fine, is as good as anyone else at distinguishing one face from another, but has difficulty recognizing faces from memory. Quanta Magazine, "The Brain Reshapes Our Malleable Senses to Fit the World," 24 Mar. 2020

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

2 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Distinguish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distinguish. Accessed 7 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for distinguish


How to pronounce distinguish (audio)

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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