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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.
    • 1583, Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, Folio V:
      Our Apparell was giuen vs as a signe distinctiue to discern betwixt sex and sex.
    a product in distinctive packaging
  2. (rare) Discriminating, discerning, having the ability to distinguish between things.
  3. Characteristic, typical.
    • 1856, John Ruskin, Modern Painters, volume III, page 293:
      Wordsworth's distinctive work was a war with pomp and pretence, and a display of the majesty of simple feelings and humble hearts.
    his distinctive bass voice
  4. (rare) Distinguished, being distinct in character or position.
    • 1867, Samuel Smiles, The Huguenots, Ch. xvii, p. 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, p. 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 & al., Language, No. 3, p. 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, Vol. I, p. 189:
      ...the red umbrella, the distinctive of royalty here...
  2. (Hebrew grammar) A distinctive accent.
    • 1874, Andrew Bruce Davidson, Introductory Hebrew Grammar, p. 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, p. 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