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 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 His campaign committee is chaired by outgoing Councilman Jared Taylor, who has distinguished himself as the council's fiscal conservative. Alison Steinbach, azcentral, "Gilbert Town Council could look far different next year. Here's who plans to run," 16 Mar. 2020 Each year the Alabama Writer’s Forum honors an author with Alabama ties who has distinguished themselves in one Capote’s favorite genres, short stories or creative non-fiction. Shelly Haskins | Shaskins@al.com, al, "Birmingham’s Charles Gaines wins Truman Capote Award," 16 Feb. 2020 The department claims the current bail system violates due process and equal protection rights because someone's wealth cannot be a valid basis to distinguish between incarceration and freedom. Bruce Schreiner, The Courier-Journal, "Beshear administration asks Kentucky Supreme Court to fix 'badly broken' bail system," 21 Jan. 2020 One guy who has really distinguished himself is Sanu, who has seven catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. BostonGlobe.com, "Lamar Jackson was impressive in the early going, leading the Ravens to an early double-digit edge. And while the Patriots would close to 17-13 at the half, Jackson led an impressive pair of second-half drives that allowed Baltimore to get some separation from New England and pull away for the win.," 3 Nov. 2019 The National Medal of Honor is our nation’s most prestigious military decoration, awarded to those who have distinguished themselves at the highest level. Larry A. Mizel, The Denver Post, "Guest Commentary: In a few days we’ll learn if Medal of Honor recipients will be honored with a museum at 5,280 feet," 30 Sep. 2019 The latecomer seeks to distinguish itself by imbuing the video chat platform with a sense of spontaneity. Fortune, "Ford’s swift pivot to PPE showcases the automaker’s competitive edge in design," 28 Apr. 2020 The idea is to develop artificial intelligence tools that can identify unique features of a Covid-19 cough and distinguish them from the hacking sounds of someone with the seasonal flu or another respiratory illness. Erin Brodwin, STAT, "‘It’s noisy’: Competing Covid-19 efforts could hamper progress, experts warn," 23 Apr. 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

19 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Distinguish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distinguish. Accessed 1 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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