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

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 This is a great improvement on traditional deep-learning systems, in which the demand for data grows exponentially with the need to distinguish more objects. Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, "How A.I. can speed up the COVID-19 vaccination drive," 5 Jan. 2021 The initial information did not distinguish those living with a vulnerable household member from those who serve as the primary caregiver. Elyssa Cherney, chicagotribune.com, "CPS denies COVID-19 accommodations to hundreds of teachers and staff who are due to return to schools Monday," 29 Dec. 2020 For kindergartners, online learning sits squarely at odds with their very new ability to distinguish reality from make-believe. Sonja Sharp Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Kindergartners struggle to learn online. But this mother-daughter duo keeps them glued," 24 Nov. 2020 Trump’s central failing as president has been his inability to distinguish between his personal interest and the public interest. Rich Lowry, National Review, "Trump’s Ugly Exit," 20 Nov. 2020 Years of getting news from social media has impaired their ability to distinguish fact from myth. Sofia Barnett, Wired, "Why Teens Are Falling for TikTok Conspiracy Theories," 19 Sep. 2020 The strategy worked because of the press’s persistent inability to distinguish between good and bad faith political attacks. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Is the Media About to Screw Up Coverage of Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick?," 11 Aug. 2020 Yet the law does not distinguish between those people, and those simply born in the country. Vivienne Walt, Time, "Why 'Accidental Americans' Are Desperate to Give Up Their U.S. Citizenship," 22 Dec. 2020 Ohio State does not distinguish between illness — such as positive tests for coronavirus — injury or disciplinary reasons for players listed as unavailable. Nathan Baird, cleveland, "Which Ohio State football players are unavailable against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game?," 19 Dec. 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

16 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Distinguish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distinguish. Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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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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Comments on distinguish

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