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 But a greater one may be the references to late-20th-century European politics, which will challenge American readers who can’t quickly distinguish the economic policies of Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt. Washington Post, "In ‘Kraft,’ German author Jonas Lüscher pokes fun at Silicon Valley’s shiny elitism and rabid faith in technology," 18 Nov. 2020 The company is also testing six small thermal cameras on the property that use an algorithm to distinguish human and vehicle motion from other types of movement in video clips. Rachael Zisk, Popular Science, "This blind rhino’s infrared security system could help stop poachers," 12 Nov. 2020 Miami has opted not to distinguish whether a player is out due to COVID-19 or injury this season when releasing an unavailability report an hour before kickoffs. David Furones, sun-sentinel.com, "Elite company: UM’s D’Eriq King bonds with Justin Fields, Kyle Trask; latest on Brevin Jordan, Navaughn Donaldson," 11 Nov. 2020 The researchers also used the interface to distinguish other secret information, including different Hamming weights—defined as the number of non-zero bits in a binary number. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, "Intel SGX defeated yet again—this time thanks to on-chip power meter," 10 Nov. 2020 Using dyes to distinguish cells under a microscope, Metchnikoff helped show that the body actively defended itself. James Somers, The New Yorker, "How the Coronavirus Hacks the Immune System," 2 Nov. 2020 Cities can still distinguish permanent signs from temporary signs, however, so political signs will likely fall under the temporary sign category. Bob Sandrick, cleveland, "Controversies over political signs this election season spur Brecksville to review its laws," 2 Nov. 2020 One way to distinguish the good science from the scams, Morrison said, is to look at what's promised. Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY, "California Prop 14 would keep taxpayer funding of stem cell therapy research, which can change lives: Meet the Langenhop kids," 2 Nov. 2020 The portraits distinguish between males and (the larger, browner) females, capture details of feathers and feet, and showcase the birds' hypnotic yellow eyes. Nancy Lord, Anchorage Daily News, "New photography books document the lives of 2 mysterious owls," 1 Nov. 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

23 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Distinguish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distinguish. Accessed 25 Nov. 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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