distinguish

verb
dis·​tin·​guish | \ di-ˈstiŋ-(g)wish How to pronounce distinguish (audio) \
distinguished; distinguishing; distinguishes

Essential Meaning of distinguish

1 : to notice or recognize a difference between people or things You're old enough to distinguish between fact and fantasy. I have trouble distinguishing between the two of them. See More ExamplesTheir voices are hard to distinguish. [=tell apart] I have trouble distinguishing the difference between the two of them. You should be able to distinguish fact from fantasy.Hide
2 : to make (someone or something) different or special in some way The only thing that distinguishes the dogs is their bark. The recipe is distinguished by its simplicity. [=the unusual or interesting thing about the recipe is its simplicity] The singer's voice is what distinguishes the band.
3 : to see or hear (someone or something) clearly You can't distinguish the detail from this distance.

Full 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

Synonyms

Antonyms

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 In previous cases, the Supreme Court has sometimes struggled to distinguish the government’s speech from private speech in a public forum. Adam Liptak, New York Times, 29 Nov. 2021 Howell is quick to distinguish a putting course from a putting green. Georgann Yara, The Arizona Republic, 19 Nov. 2021 How is Sherwin Williams planning to use colored lights to distinguish its new headquarters in the downtown Cleveland skyline? Laura Johnston, cleveland, 17 Nov. 2021 It should be noted that Nielsen’s Top 10 streaming lists, which are typically released every Thursday, distinguish between acquired and original titles, and hone in on minutes viewed per title, rather than hours. Mónica Marie Zorrilla, Variety, 16 Nov. 2021 It should be noted that Nielsen’s Top 10 streaming lists, which are typically released every Thursday, distinguish between acquired and original titles, and hone in on minutes viewed per title, rather than hours. NBC News, 16 Nov. 2021 Kavanaugh, who voted for the stay, tried to distinguish the case from Ray by claiming in a concurring opinion that Murphy had raised an equal-treatment claim himself, while the Eleventh Circuit had found one in Ray’s case on its own accord. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 10 Nov. 2021 Usually, people repeatedly get these sores and abscesses in areas where the skin folds, like the groin, armpits, under the breasts, and buttocks, and the lumps reappear in the same spots, which is one way to distinguish the condition from boils. Sarah Bradley, SELF, 9 Nov. 2021 Along with the charging port on the driver's side rear fender, the only ways to visually distinguish the plug-in-hybrid Cayenne from the traditional gas-engine models are the brake calipers and exterior badge outlines in bright Acid Green. Eric Stafford, Car and Driver, 8 Nov. 2021

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.

See More

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

Learn More About distinguish

Time Traveler for distinguish

Time Traveler

The first known use of distinguish was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near distinguish

distingué

distinguish

distinguished

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for distinguish

Last Updated

6 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Distinguish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/distinguish. Accessed 8 Dec. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for distinguish

distinguish

verb
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.

distinguish

transitive verb
dis·​tin·​guish

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

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Thing: Flower Edition

Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!