Senior Member
Bulgarian - Yellow Beach
Is there any difference between them in the following sentences: "At what age are children able to differentiate/distinguish between right and wrong"?, "The male's yellow beak differentiates/distinguishes it from the female" and "Her intellect was what distinguished/differentiated Kimberly from the other girls". To me they look the same. They are probably not.

What is the difference between them :( ?
  • akana

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    They are basically the same. In some instances, however, "distinguish" can imply that one of the things being compared is superior to the other thing.

    She distinguished herself from her peers through her hard work and sheer tenacity.

    "Differentiate," on the other hand, primarily implies that the things being compared are different.
    I think 'differentiate' applies where there are gradations (as there often are). A doctor can differentiate between a whooping cough and an ordinary one. And he might further differentiate between an early stage whooping cough and a late stage one, on the basis of lung sounds.

    An ornithologist can differentiate the northern species of crow from the southern by its shorter beak.

    "Distinguish" is related to 'make a distinction.' Can we distinguish between what's wrong from what's unfair; it's a global and qualitative issue. Again, to distinguish right from wrong is a qualitative matter. Of course it's not always easy, e.g. "In some species of parrot it's very difficult to distinguish the male from the female."


    Senior Member
    Bulgarian - Yellow Beach
    Thank you both. Then, can we say that in the sentence "Her intellect was what distinguished Kim from the other girls" distinguish fits the context better? I am not 100% sure, but we distinguish colors. In my country, people who can't distinguish colors were not allowed to drive in the past. Things might have changed now.

    To benny: Do we distinguish between right or wrong? Why can't we differentiate? Why do we differentiate the northern species of crow from the southern and not differentiate it?

    Please excuse me for asking so many questions, I know that it is annoying. I am just rather confused :(. Again :(


    Senior Member
    1. People who suffer from colour blindness have trouble distinguishing or differentiating between colours? or both fit?

    2. A four year old should be able to distinguish/differentiate between shapes. again both fit?
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