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

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The fight scenes feel relatively original, which is impressive unto itself, considering how many other creative filmmakers there are trying to distinguish themselves in the genre. Peter Debruge, Variety, 2 Aug. 2022 But Marie Murray Martin wants to distinguish herself from her mother. Shira Moolten, Sun Sentinel, 25 July 2022 Candidates will seek to distinguish themselves from one another and make their case to Republican voters to be entrusted as the state party's standard bearer come November. Ben Baker, Journal Sentinel, 22 July 2022 Glassman has sought to distinguish himself from the other five Republican candidates running for the office through having the most endorsements from police, his private practice experience and his work during the 2020 presidential election. Tara Kavaler, The Arizona Republic, 6 July 2022 Hardy continued to distinguish himself by being straightforward and communicative, for showing poise and attention to detail and being well-prepared. Eric Walden, The Salt Lake Tribune, 6 July 2022 What are the specific elements that distinguish it from their style? Radhika Seth, Vogue, 6 July 2022 However, being aware of your feelings and taking steps to improve your well-being is what can distinguish you as a strong but humane leader. Tytus Gołas, Forbes, 30 June 2022 The move was intended in part to distinguish it from two other schools with the same initials -- Oregon State University and Oklahoma State University. Amy Simonson, CNN, 23 June 2022 See More

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.

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

8 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Distinguish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distinguish. Accessed 12 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for distinguish


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

More from Merriam-Webster on distinguish

Nglish: Translation of distinguish for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of distinguish for Arabic Speakers


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