Definition of distinguish in English:



  • 1Recognize or treat (someone or something) as different.

    ‘the child is perfectly capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy’
    • ‘This section of the report distinguishes different research methods into behavioural genetics.’
    • ‘Several categories may be distinguished on the basis of the mechanics of flower opening.’
    • ‘Thus neither radionuclide scans nor ultrasound reliably distinguish benign from malignant disease.’
    • ‘What I have difficulty with is distinguishing different noises in loud areas.’
    • ‘The software is also speed-sensitive, so it can distinguish the different conditions in city driving and faster roads or motorways.’
    • ‘The cytology was helpful in distinguishing benign from malignant pancreatic frozen section.’
    • ‘The CT-scan was able, with minimum disturbance, to distinguish different densities of soft tissue and bone.’
    • ‘I have trouble distinguishing components of that taste and really have trouble naming them!’
    • ‘They cannot be easily distinguished by the colour of their skin.’
    • ‘Some of the other cases cited of course can be readily distinguished on the facts.’
    • ‘Checklists also may not distinguish which relatives are affected or their degree of relatedness to the patient.’
    • ‘Of course, from the distance it was impossible to distinguish who was who.’
    • ‘Pinker suggests that our love of music may have developed out of a similar evolutionary need to distinguish different sounds.’
    • ‘Not only did he speak for the roles, but he also used different tones to distinguish the good guy from the bad guy.’
    • ‘However, I can easily distinguish the difference between my opinions and the immensity of my ego.’
    • ‘She couldn't distinguish which one it was.’
    • ‘Weber distinguishes many different types of ‘money’ and their functions.’
    • ‘She had always had trouble distinguishing the difference between twins!’
    • ‘One carried something under his arm but Monday couldn't distinguish what it was.’
    • ‘Specifically, people unfamiliar with reverse characters seem to have difficulty distinguishing mirror images.’
    differentiate, tell apart, discriminate, discern, determine, pick out
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1no object Perceive or point out a difference.
      ‘bees are unable to distinguish between red, black, and various grays’
      • ‘This difference is very significant because it helps you distinguish between vertical and horizontal pipes.’
      • ‘You are not the only one who has difficulty distinguishing between the two positions.’
      • ‘Copyright law does not distinguish between sampling and counterfeiting.’
      • ‘However, it is not possible to distinguish between these possibilities from the present data.’
      • ‘The species are distinguished using internal and external features.’
      • ‘Now, Kafka importantly distinguishes between two types of acquittal available to the accused.’
      • ‘These differences are sufficient to distinguish between the two species.’
      • ‘As investors, we need to be able to distinguish between interesting scientific discoveries and commercially viable projects.’
      • ‘Thirty-three species have been distinguished in 99 limestone thin sections.’
      • ‘Our goal was to distinguish between two hypotheses, the balance hypothesis and the insufficient amounts hypothesis.’
      • ‘Classification systems vary in terminology, but most distinguish on the basis of the severity of the learning disability.’
      • ‘Unfortunately, we currently know of no way to distinguish between these possibilities.’
      • ‘They are unable to distinguish between culture and religions.’
      • ‘Type 3 is distinguished by the presence of coarse serrations; no other type exhibits serrations.’
      • ‘The BMI does not distinguish between fat and muscle, so buff men are likely to be considered overweight.’
      • ‘The sources do not distinguish between administrative and political corruption or between petty and grand corruption.’
      • ‘Why would you distinguish on those facts between the priest and the archbishop?’
      • ‘Likewise, the ability to distinguish between certain sounds such as sss, sshh or zz diminishes from the time we reach our thirties.’
      • ‘I know actors and actresses have a little trouble distinguishing between fact and fantasy.’
      • ‘When at rest, our bodies can't distinguish between the sweet stuff in Coke and the sweet stuff in orange juice.’
    2. 1.2 Manage to discern (something barely perceptible)
      ‘it was too dark to distinguish anything more than their vague shapes’
      • ‘Moments before the light and dark disappeared, Sam distinguished a few of the beautiful words.’
      • ‘Where before she could barely distinguish where the sea ended and where the sky began, she could now clearly see which was which.’
      • ‘The Kushnans were barely able to distinguish the Baron from the room.’
      • ‘The loud phone rings were barely able to be distinguished.’
      • ‘He was the first to identify the brain as the seat of understanding and to distinguish understanding from perception.’
      • ‘To his credit, Hornby manages to distinguish the four voices well.’
      • ‘The smell of ozone was thick in the air and smoke and dust was everywhere making it impossible to distinguish anything.’
      • ‘Each fish has a unique pattern of white spots, making it possible to distinguish one from another.’
      • ‘Up ahead, beyond the settlement, Ryan could distinguish the dark, unruly mass that was the sea.’
      • ‘I squinted into the darkness, barely distinguishing anything.’
      • ‘Matthew looked around the room, trying to distinguish just what was going on.’
      • ‘In close-ups you could barely distinguish which body parts were on view.’
      • ‘The bus was silent except for a faint beat that Lena could barely distinguish from the creaks and groans of the bus.’
      • ‘She couldn't distinguish anything in the darkness that prevailed down here.’
      • ‘My whole mind whirled around me, thinking so many thoughts that I couldn't distinguish anything intelligible.’
      • ‘Oran can now barely distinguish, with one eye, between light and dark.’
      • ‘Winds were cascading around them, yet it was too black to distinguish anything.’
      discern, see, perceive, make out
      View synonyms
    3. 1.3 Be an identifying or characteristic mark or property of.
      ‘what distinguishes sports from games?’
      • ‘They see their commitment to universality as an important feature distinguishing Canada from the United States.’
      • ‘The licensing and distribution models are the key characteristics that distinguish OSS from commercial software.’
      • ‘For such lesions, the tissue morphologic features have been distinguished according to the patterns found in the coexisting components.’
      • ‘This feature is unique and distinguishes Palaega rugosa from all other species that have been referred to the genus.’
      • ‘Two inter-related characteristics distinguished the Histadrut and the Labour Zionists from their inception.’
      • ‘Some of the characteristics that distinguish the two are intrinsic.’
      • ‘Another characteristic feature that distinguishes eukaryotic from prokaryotic genes is the presence of introns.’
      • ‘A suite of characteristics distinguishes Orconectes neglectus from other northeastern crayfishes.’
      • ‘The use of arms and appropriate assets is the main distinguishing feature of war here.’
      • ‘Kathleen's friendly nature was one of her most distinguishing characteristics.’
      • ‘This feature distinguishes the Act from statutory proposals to place age limits or fixed terms of service on Supreme Court Justices.’
      • ‘One of the morphological characters to distinguish Capsicum species is seed color.’
      • ‘Lacotte's jury found Pingping Ji remarkable for her style and her air of nobility, elements that distinguished this year's classical competition.’
      • ‘Food used to be one of the most distinguishing characteristics of a civilization.’
      • ‘Several features distinguish the Posimetric design from other feeding technology.’
      • ‘An appealing feature that distinguished one of my choices - Centre College - was its widely known dedication to liberal learning.’
      • ‘These two features distinguish De Villepin's sell-offs from their predecessors.’
      • ‘Certain characteristics distinguish one type of print from another.’
      separate, set apart, make distinctive, make different
      distinctive, differentiating, discriminating, determining
      View synonyms
    4. 1.4distinguish oneself Make oneself prominent and worthy of respect through one's behavior or achievements.
      ‘many distinguished themselves in the fight’
      • ‘Focusing on our strengths is surely our only chance to distinguish ourselves and excel.’
      • ‘The suit dragged on for years during which the tribes and government did not distinguish themselves by their behavior.’
      • ‘Three cases distinguish themselves above the others, while several more were worthy of consideration, as well.’
      • ‘Some Korean restaurants are distinguishing themselves by their decor.’
      • ‘The real winner is Lost in Translation, mostly for distinguishing itself in this list as being self-consciously cinematic.’
      • ‘This Canadian distillery was distinguishing itself with one brand in particular - ‘Canadian Club‘.’
      • ‘Those who excel in this struggle distinguish themselves through nothing more exotic than boundless cunning and ruthlessness.’
      • ‘The young GM plant has already distinguished itself by a remarkable achievement in quality.’
      • ‘They will want to distinguish themselves from the crowd, which is a worthy ambition.’
      • ‘Stop being part of the herd and start distinguishing yourself.’
      attain distinction, be successful, bring fame to oneself, bring honour to oneself, become famous, dignify oneself, glorify oneself, excel oneself, win acclaim for oneself, ennoble oneself, become lionized, become immortalized, elevate oneself
      View synonyms


Late 16th century: formed irregularly from French distinguer or Latin distinguere, from dis- ‘apart’ + stinguere ‘put out’ (from a base meaning ‘prick’).