Distinct, Distinctive, and Distinguished

Commonly Confused Words

Though they are related, each of these three adjectivesdistinct, distinctive, and distinguished—has a its own meaning. 

Definitions

The adjective distinct means separate, clearly defined, and easily distinguishable from all others. Distinct also means notable or highly probable.

The adjective distinctive means having a quality that makes a person or thing noticeably different from others.

The adjective distinguished means impressive, eminent, and/or worthy of respect.

(Distinguished is also the past form of the verb distinguish, which means to demonstrate or perceive a difference, to see or hear [something] clearly, or to make [oneself] noteworthy.)
 

Examples

  • "The human species, according to the best theory I can form of it, is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow and the men who lend."
    (Charles Lamb, "The Two Races of Men," 1813)
     
  • "It is from the blues that all that may be called American music derives its most distinctive characteristics."
    (James Weldon Johnson)
     
  • "Dr. Jäger was a distinguished child psychiatrist, a music lover, and, I remember, a dog lover--he had two dachshunds, Sigmund and Sieglinde, whom he was extremely fond of."
    (Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987)
     

Usage Notes

  • "Anything that is distinct is clearly distinguishable from everything else; something distinctive is a quality or characteristic that makes it possible for us to distinguish one thing from another. Distinct speech is clear; distinctive speech is special or unusual. So a pileated woodpecker is a woodpecker distinct from most other woodpeckers, distinguishable from other woodpeckers; its large size is distinctive, helping us distinguish it from most other woodpeckers."
    (Kenneth G. Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia University Press, 1993)

    Practice

    (a) "The mirror was positioned so the receptionist could survey the entire waiting room from behind her desk. It showed a _____-looking woman in a fawn-colored suit, with long, auburn hair and a timeless gaze."
    (Davis Bunn, Book of Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2011)

    (b) "Suhye let out her abrupt, _____ laugh.

    Her laugh was like an enormous, swollen soap bubble bursting. He could identify that laugh of hers with his eyes closed."
    (Jung Mi Kyung, My Son's Girlfriend, trans. by Yu Young-Nan.  Columbia University Press, 2013)

    (c) "His face was lined with weariness and his eyes were red. There were two _____ grooves running down his cheeks from his eyes where his tears had fallen."
    (Alexander Godin, "My Dead Brother Comes to America." Windsor Quarterly, 1934)

     

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Distinct, Distinctive, and Distinguished

    (a) "The mirror was positioned so the receptionist could survey the entire waiting room from behind her desk. It showed a distinguished-looking woman in a fawn-colored suit, with long, auburn hair and a timeless gaze."
    (Davis Bunn, Book of Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2011)

    (b) "Suhye let out her abrupt, distinctive laugh. Her laugh was like an enormous, swollen soap bubble bursting.

    He could identify that laugh of hers with his eyes closed."
    (Jung Mi Kyung, My Son's Girlfriend, trans. by Yu Young-Nan.  Columbia University Press, 2013)

    (c) "His face was lined with weariness and his eyes were red. There were two distinct grooves running down his cheeks from his eyes where his tears had fallen."
    (Alexander Godin, "My Dead Brother Comes to America." Windsor Quarterly, 1934)

     

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Distinct, Distinctive, and Distinguished." ThoughtCo, Jun. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/distinct-distinctive-and-distinguished-1689551. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, June 12). Distinct, Distinctive, and Distinguished. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/distinct-distinctive-and-distinguished-1689551 Nordquist, Richard. "Distinct, Distinctive, and Distinguished." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/distinct-distinctive-and-distinguished-1689551 (accessed January 17, 2018).