AskDefine | Define distinguish

Dictionary Definition



1 mark as different; "We distinguish several kinds of maple" [syn: separate, differentiate, secern, secernate, severalize, severalise, tell, tell apart]
2 detect with the senses; "The fleeing convicts were picked out of the darkness by the watchful prison guards"; "I can't make out the faces in this photograph" [syn: recognize, recognise, discern, pick out, make out, tell apart]
3 be a distinctive feature, attribute, or trait; sometimes in a very positive sense; "His modesty distinguishes him form his peers" [syn: mark, differentiate]
4 make conspicuous or noteworthy [syn: signalize, signalise]
5 identify as in botany or biology, for example [syn: identify, discover, key, key out, describe, name]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings



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


To see someone or something as different from others
To see someone or something clearly or distinctly
To make one's self noticeably different

Extensive Definition

In law, to distinguish a case means to differentiate the facts of the case before the court from the facts of a case of precedent where there is an apparent similarity. By successfully distinguishing a case, the holding or legal reasoning of the earlier case will either not apply or will be limited.
Whether a case is successfully distinguished often looks to whether the distinguished facts are material to the matter.
Both cases Balfour v. Balfour (1919) and Merrit v. Merrit (1971), involve a wife making a claim against her husband for breach of contract. The judge in Balfour decided that a claim could not be made because there was no intention to create legal regulations, there was no legally binding contract. However in Merrit v. Merrit, the judge decided that the facts of this case was sufficiently different in that, whilst the parties were husband and wife, the agreement was made after they had separated, in writing, thus distinguishing the case from Balfour.

Spotted cow

An analogy taught in law school is that of a case involving black and white spotted cows. A lawyer in a subsequent case involving brown spotted cows might distinguish the facts on the color of the spots.

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

adorn, aggrandize, analyze, anatomize, atomize, be characteristic, behold, bestow honor upon, call attention to, catch sight of, categorize, change, characterize, chop logic, clap eyes on, classify, confer distinction on, contradistinguish, decide, define, demarcate, demark, denote, describe, descry, designate, desynonymize, detach, detect, determinate, determine, diagnose, difference, differentiate, dignify, discern, discover, discriminate, disengage, disequalize, disjoin, diversify, divide, draw the line, earmark, ennoble, erect, espy, extricate, feel, finger, glimpse, glorify, grace, grade, group, have, have in sight, hear, honor, identify, indicate, individualize, individuate, judge, ken, keynote, know, know again, lay eyes on, look on, look upon, magnify, make a distinction, make out, mark, mark off, mark out, mark the interface, modify, nail, note, notice, observe, part, particularize, peg, perceive, personalize, pick out, pick up, pinpoint, place, qualify, realize, recall knowledge of, recognize, refine a distinction, reidentify, remark, screen, screen out, see, segregate, select, sense, separate, set a limit, set apart, set off, set the pace, set the tone, sever, severalize, sieve, sieve out, sift, sift out, sight, signalize, single out, smell, sort, sort out, sound the keynote, specialize, split hairs, spot, spy, subdivide, sublime, subtilize, take in, taste, tell, tell apart, twig, uprear, vary, view, winnow, witness
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