Definition of differentiate in English:



[with object]
  • 1Recognize or ascertain what makes (someone or something) different.

    ‘children can differentiate the past from the present’
    • ‘According to the explanation, the illusion takes advantage of the way in which the human visual system evolved to differentiate shapes and find edges, not to make fine distinctions in color.’
    • ‘‘True gay rock star lives,’ she adds, heavy on the irony, because she is the most vocal about differentiating her art from her sexual identity.’
    • ‘The hegemonic hold of Consumer Culture is so great that we cannot differentiate what is ours and what is theirs.’
    • ‘We will also attempt to determine the line that differentiates the normal from the abnormal, and how to deal with each of these cases as a result of this demarcation.’
    • ‘Only the deeper contrast of the figure differentiates it from the vegetation and tenuously relegates the forest to a safe atmospheric distance.’
    • ‘The first sessions were devoted to presenting a social learning view of depression and guiding the participant in learning how to identify and differentiate mood states.’
    • ‘The only way to differentiate these substances is by determining the structural formula for each substance.’
    • ‘Attributes of Victorian and Edwardian middle-class identity served to differentiate the young clerk from those with full middle-class status.’
    • ‘A brand is essentially a way of giving a product a unique identity which differentiates it from its near competitors.’
    • ‘Many adolescents had difficulty identifying key variables to differentiate a male friend from a boyfriend.’
    • ‘Those can identify and differentiate different communities whether religious, professional or cultural.’
    • ‘The chapter on the challenges of bird identification explains how to differentiate similar species, such as the downy and the hairy woodpecker.’
    • ‘In those early days I accepted the conventional wisdom that the powers and functions of head of state resided with the Queen but were exercised by the governor-general, and I tried to find some way of differentiating their roles.’
    • ‘Not only must you pick the high scorers each week, but you must differentiate your roster from owners in front of you.’
    • ‘The main problem in the recognition of these lesions lies in differentiating them from primary breast carcinomas.’
    • ‘Special stains, immunohistochemical studies, and electron microscopic studies are needed to differentiate these 2 tumors.’
    • ‘It is not yet possible for patients to recognise faces, but they can at least differentiate large objects that are moving in their environment.’
    • ‘Whenever, therefore, we need to identify something, we do so by differentiating it from what it is not.’
    • ‘Participants were instructed to distinguish or differentiate competence from job performance, which we defined as how well employees actually performed their jobs.’
    • ‘This is the first challenge in the process of managing spam: how to get a computer to analyze these strings to recognize and differentiate the welcome from the unwelcome emails.’
    1. 1.1differentiate betweenno object Identify differences between (two or more things or people)
      ‘he is unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality’
      • ‘This could present the police with difficulties in maintaining public order and differentiating between who is breaking the bylaw and who is not, the report adds.’
      • ‘The government, it seems, has yet to get a full grasp of differentiating between the personal and the political.’
      • ‘I know the original French structure suggests it's already in the past-tense, but this is English, and there has to be some means of differentiating between the noun and the adjective.’
      • ‘Prosecutors and judges will have no difficulty in differentiating between cases, however inventive are those determined to break a democratically enacted law.’
      • ‘They are used to differentiating between real and made-up.’
      • ‘However, the survey shows homeowners are consciously differentiating between general expenditure and spending on property, which they still view as a long-term investment.’
      • ‘Under the programme, in addition to differentiating between day and night, parents were told to settle a sleepy baby in a cot and avoid cuddling or feeding the child to sleep at night.’
      • ‘Voters are differentiating between parties and their leaders.’
      • ‘If this is the case, naturalistic methodology should have no problem differentiating between what is produced by undirected natural causes and that which is produced by intelligent causes.’
      • ‘It is time that students in institutions of higher learning in Zambia began differentiating between misplaced student militarism and academic development.’
      • ‘It is not true that thousands of employers are fretting about differentiating between the brightest students.’
      • ‘This is one of the first steps the wizard takes towards differentiating between delusion and fact.’
      • ‘We experienced some difficulty identifying whale species during the count, especially differentiating between bowhead and gray whales.’
      • ‘Or at worst, use a two-tier system, differentiating between those who make it into Parliament or have a certain number of audited members or poll close to the threshold, and those who don't.’
      • ‘Likewise, she adds, the study may not be differentiating between the amount of ‘quality time’ that parents spend with their children from the time they spend in the same house as them.’
      • ‘However, neither system accurately identifies vehicles needed for wartime missions or differentiates between wartime- and peacetime-use vehicles.’
      • ‘I have to admit to having trouble differentiating between the strategic use of the truth and propaganda.’
      • ‘While most of us can easily identify a cactus, it may be harder to differentiate between an agave and an aloe.’
      • ‘Our own system of jurisprudence differentiates between crimes and torts and also takes into consideration such concepts as intent, depraved indifference, negligence, gross negligence, etc.’
      • ‘The problem is not whether one differentiates between the two types of weapons; the problem is whether one can find reliable and timely means of detecting their use.’
      distinguish, discriminate, make a distinction, draw a distinction, see a difference, discern a difference, tell the difference
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Make (someone or something) appear different or distinct.
      ‘little now differentiates the firm's products from its rivals’
      • ‘Three characteristics or properties differentiate laser light from ordinary light (ie, light from a lightbulb).’
      • ‘Thus even if a feminist identifies herself as analytic, she still takes pains to differentiate her views in some respects from her ‘paternal’ discourse.’
      • ‘What kinds of features do they share, and what defining characteristics differentiate various groups?’
      • ‘But the fund has Chinese characteristics that differentiate it from some of the index-tracking funds that have been so successful overseas in the past two decades.’
      • ‘The third is to develop a brand strategy for the key brands that includes a motivating brand identity as well as a position that differentiates the brand and resonates with customers.’
      • ‘This hypothesis suggested that vascular depression had common characteristics that differentiated it from other depressive syndromes.’
      • ‘In summary, the modern international system displays six sharp distinctions that differentiate it from those of the ancient and classical world.’
      • ‘It is clear they will be companies that find a way to differentiate their products by identifying and responding to emerging consumer needs.’
      • ‘Family characteristics also differentiated the patterns and relations were found among patterns across intervention targets.’
      • ‘The chorus were similarly all in black, with little to differentiate the individual characters that make up the drama.’
      • ‘If so, they must also determine how to differentiate their product.’
      • ‘The only distinguishing features to differentiate the turtles are the color of their bandanas.’
      • ‘We distinguish four dimensions that differentiate federal systems.’
      • ‘Inject your writing with a distinctive voice to help differentiate it from the multitude of content on the Web.’
      • ‘The proposed new development is sympathetic to the existing church structure, but recognises the need to differentiate this new building from the old one.’
      • ‘One important characteristic that has always differentiated good web designers from bad ones is the restrain in embracing every new technology that comes along.’
      • ‘His educational proposals during the Revolution insisted on the distinction between education and instruction he saw as crucial in differentiating modern liberty from that of the ancients.’
      • ‘What characteristics differentiate drug injectors who seek formal help with their addictions from those who do not seek help?’
      • ‘Distinct characteristics also differentiate this family of plants.’
      • ‘Actually there are no characteristics to differentiate it from the rest of the public sector, and sometimes even from the private sector.’
      make different, distinguish, set apart, single out, separate, segregate, mark off, characterize, individualize, individuate
      View synonyms
  • 2technical Make or become different in the process of growth or development.

    with object ‘the receptors are developed and differentiated into sense organs’
    no object ‘the cells differentiate into a wide variety of cell types’
    • ‘Proecdysial growth of the limb bud consists of rapid growth of the muscle cells that were differentiated during the basal growth period.’
    • ‘Recent reports suggest that adult stem cells can differentiate into developmentally unrelated cell types.’
    • ‘By developing suitable tests with embryonic stem cells as they differentiate to germ cells we can investigate the action of these chemicals in the laboratory.’
    • ‘Once B cells have come into contact with an antigen they proliferate and differentiate into antibody secreting cells.’
    • ‘However, we found that cells that are terminally differentiated and metabolically inactive often show no DNA signals in the nucleus at all.’
    transform, metamorphose, evolve, convert, change, become different, modify, alter, adapt
    View synonyms
  • 3Mathematics
    Transform (a function) into its derivative.

    • ‘When trying to differentiate a complicated function, the method is to decompose it into simpler components, and work with these separately.’
    • ‘The chain rule will allow us to differentiate functions that consist of exponential brackets.’
    • ‘In his reply Leibniz gave some details of the principles of his differential calculus including the rule for differentiating a function of a function.’
    • ‘Both functions are continuous and are easily differentiated.’
    • ‘We will also think about how functions are built from component parts, and how we differentiate a function by considering these parts individually and how they are combined.’


Early 19th century: from medieval Latin differentiat- ‘carried away from’, from the verb differentiare, from differentia (see differentia).