Definition of distinction in US English:



  • 1A difference or contrast between similar things or people.

    ‘there is a sharp distinction between domestic politics and international politics’
    ‘I was completely unaware of class distinctions’
    • ‘The poetic voice progressively splinters into cacophony, in which the gender distinctions progressively collapse.’
    • ‘Also, a fairly sharp distinction is drawn between theory and research.’
    • ‘Here I will generally use the term trademark and ignore the subtle distinctions of service marks and trade names.’
    • ‘Maintaining a clear distinction between conjecture and certainty is especially important in such a conceptually difficult subject.’
    • ‘There is a subtle academic distinction between decisions under Risk and decisions under Uncertainty.’
    • ‘In this debate, crucial distinctions are too often blurred.’
    • ‘Many of the proposed fine distinctions seem relatively unimportant in routine neurological practice.’
    • ‘But a critical distinction needs to be drawn between physical and mental fatigue.’
    • ‘He found that even tiny status distinctions matter.’
    • ‘Unfortunately, those concepts elide some important distinctions.’
    • ‘I'm here to remind you that these are arbitrary distinctions.’
    • ‘In most parts of the North India, however, no such sharp distinction exists.’
    • ‘There is an important conceptual distinction between the evolutionary response to natural selection and phenotypic selection.’
    • ‘They seek to construct parochial and arbitrary distinctions between the civic and the human community.’
    • ‘The United States recently earned the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.’
    • ‘Additional educational efforts to increase participants' abilities to recognize subtle distinctions between these 2 tumors may be of benefit.’
    • ‘The most noticeable distinction (apart from various details of the skeleton) are the more forward position of the eyes.’
    • ‘The dominant colonial obsession with race and racial distinctions of all kinds sometimes fed into the ideas of the dominated.’
    • ‘And the same people are led to believe Muslims have no caste distinction.’
    • ‘She also points out that a critical moral distinction in play here is between intended and unintended killing.’
    difference, contrast, dissimilarity, dissimilitude, divergence, variance, variation
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 The separation of things or people into different groups according to their attributes or characteristics.
      ‘these procedures were to be applied to all births, without distinction’
      • ‘Distance and distinction mark ethnic relations within the country.’
      • ‘Though she was clearly talented, Locke lacked distinction.’
      • ‘However, what the majority of developments lacked was a sense of character and distinction.’
      • ‘So long as we agree about the marking, it is of no great consequence where we draw the line between pass and failure, or between the different levels of distinction.’
      • ‘These characteristics demonstrate considerable variation, and distinction among the three varieties in the field is difficult.’
      • ‘Why draw arbitrary lines of distinction and value in different spheres of work?’
      • ‘As the man assembles without distinction samples from different areas, each track feeds on combined atmospheres.’
      • ‘Give the beer a rest for one night and enjoy a beverage with character and distinction.’
      • ‘For these critics, public indifference was a mark of distinction, a sign of the artist's refusal to pander to the degraded tastes of the crowd.’
      • ‘Another sign of distinction is the ability to see familiar things differently.’
  • 2Excellence that sets someone or something apart from others.

    ‘a novelist of distinction’
    • ‘Several played with distinction at the recent Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, where Taibu was I believe player of the tournament.’
    • ‘Of course I would, because I think he's very capable and could serve with great distinction in a number of different positions.’
    • ‘But that doesn't deduct from the artistry and distinction that beams from the rest of the film.’
    • ‘He had as his teacher a scholar of more than usual ability and distinction.’
    • ‘Dharma Kumar was born in March 1928 into a family of unusual distinction and character.’
    • ‘He has served the All India Radio for several years with distinction.’
    • ‘The Supreme Court, in other words, has seldom been a showcase of intellectual distinction.’
    • ‘They act as a showcase for the farming sector and they have fulfilled that role with flair and distinction for many years.’
    • ‘She was a woman of great distinction who left behind a large body of excellent work.’
    • ‘In 1877 artistic ambition led Munger to England to search for new styles and international artistic distinction.’
    • ‘Ironically the multifarious Man Ray yearned for greatness as a painter - posterity has not accorded him this distinction.’
    • ‘They lend European cinema artistic distinction but not industrial security.’
    • ‘They seemed to fade into the background, as you would expect from a servant, and didn't seem to crave power or distinction.’
    • ‘A poet's distinction lies in their ability to get to a deep level of insight very quickly.’
    • ‘Many historians have entered politics, several attaining positions of distinction.’
    • ‘The recent Golden Globe winner again shows her gift for giving distinction to characters who seem born to be pitied or dismissed.’
    • ‘He carried out a Funeral Directing Business, with panache and distinction.’
    • ‘The parents of our country need to give more of character and distinction to the lives of their children.’
    • ‘Today Châteauneuf remains in good standing, crafting some excellent wines of real distinction and merit.’
    • ‘The Moscow-trained and London-based violinist Grigory Zhislin is an artist of distinction and imagination.’
    importance, significance, note, consequence, account
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1 A decoration or honor awarded to someone in recognition of outstanding achievement.
      ‘he gained the highest distinction awarded for excellence in photography’
      • ‘She also holds a master's degree, with distinction, in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School.’
      • ‘He was awarded the final school certificate with a distinction in 1849.’
      • ‘He was awarded the distinction last year but wanted to wait until there was a presentation ceremony at Rideau Hall.’
      • ‘After obtaining her honours and master's degrees with distinction, she went to study at the University of Pretoria where she completed a PhD.’
      • ‘He'd been given a retrospective at the Louvre, the first living artist to be awarded such a distinction.’
      • ‘Should we now admit who we are and have our merits and distinctions and even honours awards taken away?’
      • ‘After working hard he was awarded a distinction in surgery and was duly offered the job.’
      • ‘Her performance at university was outstanding and she was awarded a distinction and received the Sir William Young Gold Medal.’
      • ‘As a junior fellow at the RNCM, he won the first ever distinction awarded for conducting in May 1999.’
      • ‘In 1989, he graduated with honours and distinctions from the Jamaica College of Arts.’
      • ‘She earned the Chair's Scholar distinction, an award offered to one student in the entire physics and astronomy graduating class.’
      • ‘He was awarded a diploma with distinction at the end of the gruelling course.’
      • ‘His bright intellect shone through and he completed his Leaving Certificate with distinction.’
      • ‘At the same time, however, you've got to award them a high distinction for Politics 101 - Know Your Constituency.’
      • ‘He was awarded with three distinctions for his City and Guilds Photography on selected themes and we wish him all the best for the future.’
      • ‘She recently was awarded a master of music with distinction from the Royal Scottish Academy.’
      • ‘She was awarded two distinctions, one for Pianoforte Playing and one for getting 100% in Theory and Harmony.’
      • ‘Anne gained many prizes and distinctions at school and university.’
      • ‘His direction of the film shot him to new prominence, and the dual distinction of awards at Cannes and the Sundance Film Festival.’
      • ‘This was the first year the school had the Leaving Cert Applied option and many pupils were awarded merits and distinctions.’
      honour, credit, excellence, merit
      View synonyms
    2. 2.2 Recognition of outstanding achievement, such as on an examination.
      ‘I made a distinction in Greek’
      Compare with merit
      • ‘A few years later, Dr Mayosi was the top matriculant in the Transkei, gaining distinctions in 4 subjects.’
      • ‘She received a distinction and merit in the exams and was presented with a certificate by college principal Dr Tom Johnson.’
      • ‘The government is also dropping plans for distinction grades at A-level.’
      • ‘Out of the 30 candidates up for grading 26 achieved a distinction pass which is over 85 per cent.’
      • ‘A talented flautist has been awarded a distinction in a Grade 8 music exam, aged just 11.’
      • ‘Her music went from strength to strength and she achieved Grade 8 distinctions in both singing and piano.’
      • ‘Roweena and Hannah both achieved distinction grades.’
      • ‘Hardy showed precocity with arithmetic and passed examinations with distinction in mathematics and Latin at Cranleigh School.’
      • ‘At the time, he became the only student in Britain to gain three distinctions in the first year of his professional exams.’
      • ‘He said that Jim had been awarded a distinction for Grade 5 Drum Kit (Rock-school) gaining 89 per cent.’
      • ‘She graduated with a National Certificate in Business Studies, having achieved first place in her class and a distinction in her final examinations.’
      • ‘Ms Samreen, a student of Hakim Ajmal Khan Girl's Senior Secondary School, passed her secondary examination with distinction.’
      • ‘Our other two applicants for higher grade distinctions were not so lucky on this attempt, but better luck next time lads.’
      • ‘University admissions requirements will vary from institution to institution, but are likely to expect either a merit or a distinction grade.’
      • ‘In addition to her A-levels, Becky also took an extension examination in Latin, which was awarded a distinction.’


  • distinction without a difference

    • An artificially created distinction where no real difference exists.

      • ‘The practical upshot is much the same, of course, so you could argue that it's a distinction without a difference.’
      • ‘The distinction between voluntary and compulsory is a distinction without a difference.’
      • ‘The first point strikes me as a distinction without a difference.’
      • ‘His not having ‘named’ them is a distinction without a difference, apparently the only kind he knows how to make.’
      • ‘So whether he uses his weapons against us or someone else does is a distinction without a difference.’
  • have the distinction of

    • Be different from others of a similar type by virtue of a notable characteristic or achievement.

      ‘pinto beans have the distinction of being one of the quickest beans to cook’
      • ‘The park has the distinction of being simultaneously a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve’
      • ‘He had the distinction of serving at different times in all three top positions within the Tinahely club - chairman, secretary and treasurer.’
      • ‘Ms. 45 has the distinction of being considered a sort of feminist exploitation film.’
      • ‘This particular message has the distinction of also containing the best spam-sender name I've seen so far.’
      • ‘In fact, he has the distinction of having given me my toughest penance in my seven years in the Church - an entire rosary!’
      • ‘Johnson has the distinction of being one of the longest-serving African-Americans in White House history.’
      • ‘You may have the distinction of just having filed the last report on what either of these men did 35-years-ago on this broadcast.’
      • ‘After breaking into the spotlight over 30 years ago, Neil Young has the distinction of still remaining relevant.’
      • ‘The former Blue Devil has the distinction of being the only individual to play on two different teams in an NCAA Championship game.’
      • ‘The show celebrates its 60th year this year and has the distinction of never once missing a show throughout its history.’


Middle English (in the sense ‘subdivision, category’): via Old French from Latin distinctio(n-), from the verb distinguere (see distinguish).