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  1. a marking off or distinguishing as different: His distinction of sounds is excellent.
  2. the recognizing or noting of differences; discrimination: to make a distinction between right and wrong.
  3. a discrimination made between things as different; special regard or favoritism: Death comes to all without distinction.
  4. condition of being different; difference: There is a distinction between what he says and what he does.
  5. a distinguishing quality or characteristic: It has the distinction of being the oldest house in the town.
  6. a distinguishing or treating with special honor, attention, or favor.
  7. an act of bestowing, or a mark of, honor or favor.
  8. marked superiority; note; eminence.
  9. distinguished appearance.
  10. Obsolete. division; separation.

Origin of distinction

1175–1225; Middle English distinccioun (< Anglo-French) < Latin distinctiōn- (stem of distinctiō), equivalent to distinct(us) (see distinct) + -iōn- -ion
Related formsdis·tinc·tion·less, adjectivesub·dis·tinc·tion, nounun·der·dis·tinc·tion, noun

Synonyms for distinction

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Synonym study

3. Distinction and difference may both refer to perceivable dissimilarities and, in this meaning, may be used interchangeably: There is a distinction ( difference ) between the two. Distinction, however, usually suggests the perception of dissimilarity, as the result of analysis and discrimination: a carefully made distinction between two treatments of the same theme; whereas difference refers only to the condition of being dissimilar: the difference between Gothic and Roman architecture. “A distinction without a difference” is a way of referring to an artificial or false discrimination. 7. See honor.

Antonyms for distinction

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for distinction


  1. the act or an instance of distinguishing or differentiating
  2. a distinguishing feature
  3. the state of being different or distinguishable
  4. special honour, recognition, or fame
  5. excellence of character; distinctive qualitiesa man of distinction
  6. distinguished appearance
  7. a symbol of honour or rank
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

Word Origin and History for distinction

c.1200, "one of the parts into which something is divided;" mid-14c. as "action of distinguishing," from Old French distinction and directly from Latin distinctionem (nominative distinctio) "separation, distinction, discrimination," noun of action from past participle stem of distinguere (see distinguish). Meaning "distinctive nature or character" is late 14c. Meaning "excellence or eminence" (what distinguishes from others) is first recorded 1690s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper