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

Children under 4 typically can’t distinguish fantasy from reality. Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ, "Alexa: Don’t Let My 2-Year-Old Talk to You That Way," 10 July 2018 In a space where people can’t distinguish people from bots, yes. David Noonan, Scientific American, "The 25% Revolution—How Big Does a Minority Have to Be to Reshape Society?," 8 June 2018 History, however, does not always distinguish between the exceptional and the easy. Tim Sullivan, The Courier-Journal, "Justify owner's dilemma: Run Audible in Belmont and risk Triple Crown?," 24 May 2018 But the fact that the WTA doesn't distinguish between genuine impairments and the birth of an infant speaks to just how much ground the tour needs to cover to meet the modern needs of its participants. Mattie Kahn, Glamour, "Serena Williams Will Return to Grand Slam Tennis At a Lower Rank Because the Sport Still Treats Childbirth Like an Injury," 22 May 2018 One reason is that a 1,000-room hotel isn't unique anymore, and doesn't distinguish a city from its competitors. Ely Portillo And Steve Harrison, charlotteobserver, "Charlotte says it needs a 1,000-room hotel to compete. But would it draw more visitors? | Charlotte Observer," 16 May 2018 The silk doesn’t distinguish harmful pathogens (like E. coli) from benign ones, but, as Kim points out, neither does hydrogen peroxide. Angela Chen, The Verge, "How scientists are engineering silk to save our bodies," 4 May 2018 Statistics provided by the city do not distinguish between shootings where someone is hurt and where someone is not. Adam Ferrise, cleveland.com, "Cleveland police need to make non-fatal shootings a priority, study says," 26 Apr. 2018 The researchers say their findings are important because most current health guidelines do not distinguish between raw and cooked or canned fruits and vegetables. Amanda Macmillan, Health.com, "These 10 Fruits and Veggies Are Linked to Better Mental Health—Especially If You Eat Them Raw," 17 Apr. 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

23 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).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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