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[dih-sting-gwi-shing] /dɪˈstɪŋ gwɪ ʃɪŋ/
distinctive; characteristic, as a definitive feature of an individual or group:
Intricate rhyming is a distinguishing feature of her poetry.
1660-70; distinguish + -ing2
Related forms
distinguishingly, adverb
nondistinguishing, adjective
self-distinguishing, adjective
undistinguishing, adjective
undistinguishingly, adverb


[dih-sting-gwish] /dɪˈstɪŋ gwɪʃ/
verb (used with object)
to mark off as different (often followed by from or by):
He was distinguished from the other boys by his height.
to recognize as distinct or different; recognize the salient or individual features or characteristics of:
It is hard to distinguish her from her twin sister.
to perceive clearly by sight or other sense; discern; recognize:
He could not distinguish many of the words.
to set apart as different; be a distinctive characteristic of; characterize:
It is his Italian accent that distinguishes him.
to make prominent, conspicuous, or eminent:
to distinguish oneself in battle.
to divide into classes; classify:
Let us distinguish the various types of metaphor.
Archaic. to single out for or honor with special attention.
verb (used without object)
to indicate or show a difference (usually followed by between).
to recognize or note differences; discriminate.
1555-65; extension, by -ish2, of Middle English disting(u)en (< Anglo-French, Middle French distinguer) < Latin distinguere; see distinct
Related forms
distinguishable, adjective
distinguishableness, distinguishability, noun
distinguishably, adverb
distinguisher, noun
distinguishment, noun
interdistinguish, verb (used with object)
nondistinguishable, adjective
nondistinguishableness, noun
nondistinguishably, adverb
predistinguish, verb (used with object)
redistinguish, verb
undistinguishable, adjective
Can be confused
distinctive, distinguishable, distinguished.
2. Distinguish, differentiate, discriminate suggest an attempt to analyze characteristic features or qualities of things. To distinguish is to recognize the characteristic features belonging to a thing: to distinguish a light cruiser from a heavy cruiser. To discriminate is to perceive the particular, nice, or exact differences between things, to determine wherein these differences consist, and to estimate their significance: to discriminate prejudiced from unprejudiced testimony. To differentiate is to point out exactly and in detail the differences between (usually) two things: The symptoms of both diseases are so similar that it is hard to differentiate one from another.
2. confuse. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for distinguishing
  • Now comes the tricky part: distinguishing between the many varieties on the market.
  • At the heart of the intelligence mission is the process of distinguishing signal from noise.
  • Overall, the wild-eyed, risk-taking combination players kept their distinguishing weapons out of sight.
  • distinguishing between the two can take weeks of behavioral testing, and misdiagnoses are common.
  • Those techniques have a harder time distinguishing among some molecules and nosing out chemicals at low concentrations.
  • The distinguishing characteristic of networks is that they have no clear center and no clear outer boundaries.
  • The distinguishing characteristic of the new push media is that it finds you, rather than you finding it.
  • Among the messy problems, for instance, is distinguishing between bots and agents.
  • In a reevaluation of the skeleton, they could not find any distinguishing characteristics.
  • distinguishing the relationships between the dogs in the fifth branch is much harder.
British Dictionary definitions for distinguishing


verb (mainly transitive)
when intr, foll by between or among. to make, show, or recognize a difference or differences (between or among); differentiate (between)
to be a distinctive feature of; characterize
to make out; perceive
to mark for a special honour or title
to make (oneself) noteworthy: he distinguished himself by his cowardice
to classify; categorize: we distinguished three species
Derived Forms
distinguishable, adjective
distinguishably, adverb
distinguisher, noun
distinguishing, adjective
distinguishingly, adverb
Word Origin
C16: from Latin distinguere to separate, discriminate
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for distinguishing



1560s, from Middle French distinguiss-, stem of distinguer, or directly from Latin distinguere "to separate between, separate by pricking," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + -stinguere "to prick" (see extinguish, and cf. Latin instinguere "to incite, impel").

The suffix -ish is due to the influence of many verbs in which it is the equivalent of Old French -iss-, ultimately from Latin inchoative suffix -iscere (this is also the case in extinguish, admonish, and astonish). Related: Distinguishing. The earlier form of the verb was distinguen (mid-14c.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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