Ask the Editor
The difference between "distinct" and "distinctive"
James in China asked about the difference between distinct and distinctive.
The meanings of these words are shown below.
1) clearly and noticeably different; or 2) strong and definite
1) having a quality or characteristic that makes a person or thing different from others; or 2) appealing or interesting because of an special quality or characteristic
As you can see, the meanings are similar, which is why they are confusing. An easier way to understand the difference between these two words is to examine how they are used.
Distinct is often used to talk about two or more different things or groups of things, as in these examples:
- The book has three distinct parts.
- There are two distinct ethnic groups.
Distinct is also used with words like possibility and impression to mean “clear and strong,” as in these examples:
- A flight cancellation is a distinct possibility.
- We had the distinct impression that they were lying.
- The team had the distinct advantage of playing in their own stadium.
Distinctive is used to say that one person or thing has a quality that makes this person/thing noticeably different from others, as in these examples:
- He had a distinctive walk.
- This wine has a more distinctive flavor than that one.
Distinctive often - but not always - has a positive meaning. Something that is distinctive is often especially good, as in this example:
- This store sells only the most distinctive chocolates.
I hope this helps.