Definition of distinguish in English:

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Pronunciation: /dɪˈstɪŋɡwɪʃ/


[with object]
1Recognize or treat (someone or something) as different: the child is perfectly capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy
More example sentences
  • What I have difficulty with is distinguishing different noises in loud areas.
  • Pinker suggests that our love of music may have developed out of a similar evolutionary need to distinguish different sounds.
  • The software is also speed-sensitive, so it can distinguish the different conditions in city driving and faster roads or motorways.
differentiate, tell apart, discriminate, discern, determine, pick out;
tell the difference between, decide between, make/draw a distinction between
1.1 [no object] Recognize or point out a difference: we must distinguish between two kinds of holiday
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • This difference is very significant because it helps you distinguish between vertical and horizontal pipes.
1.2Be an identifying characteristic or mark of: what distinguishes sport from games?
More example sentences
  • Several features distinguish the Posimetric design from other feeding technology.
  • Some of the characteristics that distinguish the two are intrinsic.
  • A suite of characteristics distinguishes Orconectes neglectus from other northeastern crayfishes.
separate, set apart, make distinctive, make different;
single out, mark off, demarcate, delimit, delineate;
characterize, individualize, individuate, identify, designate, categorize, classify
individualistic, particular, peculiar, singular, idiosyncratic, unique, noteworthy, different, uncommon, extraordinary, original;
2Manage to discern (something barely perceptible): it was too dark to distinguish anything more than their vague shapes
More example sentences
  • I squinted into the darkness, barely distinguishing anything.
  • To his credit, Hornby manages to distinguish the four voices well.
  • The loud phone rings were barely able to be distinguished.
discern, see, perceive, make out;
detect, recognize, identify, pick out
formal apprehend
literary descry, espy
3 (distinguish oneself) Make oneself worthy of respect by one’s behaviour or achievements: many distinguished themselves in the fight against Hitler
More example sentences
  • The young GM plant has already distinguished itself by a remarkable achievement in quality.
  • The suit dragged on for years during which the tribes and government did not distinguish themselves by their behavior.
  • Those who excel in this struggle distinguish themselves through nothing more exotic than boundless cunning and ruthlessness.
attain distinction, be successful, bring fame/honour to oneself, become famous, dignify oneself, glorify oneself, excel oneself, win acclaim for oneself, ennoble oneself, become lionized, become immortalized, elevate oneself


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

Words that rhyme with distinguish


For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: dis|tin¦guish

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