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From Latin distinctus, perfect passive participle of distinguere (to push apart, to divide), + -ive (forming adjectives signifying relation or tendency to). Cognate with French distinctif and Medieval Latin distinctivus.


  • IPA(key): /dɪˈstɪŋktɪv/
  • (file)


distinctive (comparative more distinctive, superlative most distinctive)

  1. Distinguishing, used to or enabling the distinguishing of some thing.
    a product in distinctive packaging
    • 1583, Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, Folio V:
      Our Apparell was giuen vs as a signe distinctiue to discern betwixt sex and sex.
  2. (rare) Discriminating, discerning, having the ability to distinguish between things.
  3. Characteristic, typical.
    his distinctive bass voice
  4. (rare) Distinguished, being distinct in character or position.
    • 1867, Samuel Smiles, chapter XVII, in The Huguenots, page 432:
      The refugees... at length ceased to exist as a distinctive body among the people.
  5. (Hebrew grammar, of accents) Used to separate clauses in place of stops.
    • 1874, Andrew Bruce Davidson, Introductory Hebrew Grammar, page 27:
      These are the main distinctive accents, and by stopping at them... the reader will do justice to the sense.
  6. (linguistics, of sounds) Distinguishing a particular sense of word.
    • 1927, L. Bloomfield et al., Language, number 3, page 129:
      Normally we symbolize only phonemes (distinctive features) so far as we can determine them.

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distinctive (plural distinctives)

  1. A distinctive thing: a quality or property permitting distinguishing; a characteristic.
    • 1816, Maurice Keatinge, Travels through France and Spain to Morocco, volume I, page 189:
      ...the red umbrella, the distinctive of royalty here...
  2. (Hebrew grammar) A distinctive accent.
    • 1874, Andrew Bruce Davidson, Introductory Hebrew Grammar, page 27:
      A distinctive of less power than Zakeph is Ṭiphḥâ.
  3. (theology) A distinctive belief, tenet, or dogma of a denomination or sect.
    • 1979, Theron F. Schlabach, “Gospel versus Gospel”, in Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, page 154:
      Mennonites could go forth somewhat detached from the chauvinism of Western culture—but not so from the Mennonite distinctives.






  1. feminine singular of distinctif