Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To perceive as being different or distinct.
  • transitive v. To perceive distinctly; discern: distinguished the masts of ships on the horizon.
  • transitive v. To make noticeable or different; set apart.
  • transitive v. To cause (oneself) to be eminent or recognized: They have distinguished themselves as dedicated social workers.
  • intransitive v. To perceive or indicate differences; discriminate: distinguish between right and wrong.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To see someone or something as different from others.
  • v. To see someone or something clearly or distinctly.
  • v. To make one's self noticeably different or better from others through accomplishments.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • transitive v. Not set apart from others by visible marks; to make distinctive or discernible by exhibiting differences; to mark off by some characteristic.
  • transitive v. To separate by definition of terms or logical division of a subject with regard to difference.
  • transitive v. To recognize or discern by marks, signs, or characteristic quality or qualities; to know and discriminate (anything) from other things with which it might be confounded.
  • transitive v. To constitute a difference; to make to differ.
  • transitive v. To separate from others by a mark of honor; to make eminent or known; to confer distinction upon; -- with by or for.
  • intransitive v. To make distinctions; to perceive the difference; to exercise discrimination; -- with between.
  • intransitive v. To become distinguished or distinctive; to make one's self or itself discernible.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To mark or note in a way to indicate difference; mark as distinct or different; characterize; indicate the difference of.
  • To recognize as different or distinct from what is contiguous or similar; perceive or discover the differences or characteristic marks or qualities of; recognize by some distinctive mark; know or ascertain difference in through the senses or the understanding; perceive or make out.
  • Hence To establish, state, or explain a difference or the differences between two or more things; separate by classification or definition; discriminate; set off or apart.
  • To discern critically; judge.
  • To separate from others by some mark of honor or preference; treat with distinction or honor; make eminent or superior; give distinction to.
  • To make a distinction; find or show a difference: followed by between.
  • To become distinct or distinguishable; become differentiated.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. make conspicuous or noteworthy
  • v. mark as different
  • v. detect with the senses
  • v. be a distinctive feature, attribute, or trait; sometimes in a very positive sense
  • v. identify as in botany or biology, for example

Etymologies

Alteration of obsolete distingue, from Middle English distinguen, from Old French distinguer, from Latin distinguere, to separate; see steig- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English distingwen, from Old French distinguer, from Latin distinguere ("to separate, divide, distinguish, set off, adorn, literally mark off"), from di- for dis- ("apart") + *stinguere; see sting, stigma, style. Compare extinguish. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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