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

Synonyms & Antonyms for distinguish


difference, differentiate, discern, discriminate, secern, separate


confuse, mistake, mix (up)

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

But as the race gets closer and the field narrows down, there’s no telling which candidate’s random guitar- (or sitar-) shredding skills may emerge as folks vying for the Oval Office try to distinguish themselves from one another. Emily Heil, chicagotribune.com, "Pete Buttigieg plays the didgeridoo and other unexpected musical talents of the 2020 candidates," 8 Aug. 2019 But as the race gets closer and the field narrows down, there’s no telling which candidate’s random guitar- (or sitar-) shredding skills may emerge as folks vying for the Oval Office try to distinguish themselves from one another. Washington Post, "Pete Buttigieg plays the didgeridoo and other unexpected musical talents of the 2020 candidates," 7 Aug. 2019 The only top-tier candidate onstage Tuesday who distinguished himself on health care — and, by extension, realism — was Buttigieg. Stephen Stromberg, Twin Cities, "Stephen Stromberg: Sanders and Warren got crushed on health care, finally," 4 Aug. 2019 Candidates need to find ways to distinguish themselves, and with two dozen in the field, that doesn’t leave much time to go after the incumbent. David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, "Three big questions for the Democratic presidential field," 2 Aug. 2019 What libertarianism might mean going forward will depend a lot on how the president’s declared opponents, like Amash, distinguish it from Trumpism—especially when Trumpism occasionally stumbles into a shallow imitation of a libertarian position. Lucy Steigerwald, The New Republic, "Justin Amash and the Libertarian Future," 29 July 2019 City Attorney Andy Segovia said making changes to the law would allow San Antonio to distinguish itself from the case in Austin. Dylan Mcguinness, ExpressNews.com, "Judge to hear arguments over delaying San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance," 24 July 2019 The boys were called students, rather than inmates, to distinguish them from the violent offenders that populated prisons. Carolyn Kellogg, latimes.com, "Colson Whitehead on the ‘incredible evil’ of the real school that inspired ‘Nickel Boys’," 12 July 2019 This process is called the lytic cycle, and hunter-killer phages are called lytic to distinguish them from other phages which do not kill their prey. B David Zarley, The Verge, "These superbug-fighting viruses are making a comeback," 5 July 2019

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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Statistics for distinguish

Last Updated

12 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for distinguish

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

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More Definitions for distinguish



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

What made you want to look up distinguish? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


not constant or steady

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