To perceive as being different or distinct: Can you distinguish a pattern in this behavior? To perceive distinctly; discern: The lookout distinguished the masts of ships on the horizon. To demonstrate or describe as being different or distinct: a scientist who distinguished four species of the plant. To be an identifying characteristic of; make noticeable or different: These spices distinguish this style of Asian cooking. To cause (oneself) to be respected or eminent: They have distinguished themselves as dedicated social workers.