In a paragraph I just read, I noticed the words 'difference, distinguish and distinction'. I thought they were synonyms of one another but now I am wondering if there is a subtle difference between them when used in sentences that would help me understand when to use these words myself. Is the use of one better than the other in certain situations? I want to be able to use the words correctly in a sentence.
In a paragraph I just read, I noticed the words 'difference, distinguish and distinction'. I thought they were synonyms of ... better than the other in certain situations? I want to be able to use the words correctly in a sentence.

1. Everyday English makes no major difference (ordistinction) between these three words.

2. Some modern styles in the social sciences are influenced byFrench scholarship (Saussure, Bourdieu etc.) that uses the words difference (spelled differance) and distinction with special technical meanings which may (or may not) be found in the paragraph you read.

Don Phillipson
Carlsbad Springs
(Ottawa, Canada)
In a paragraph I just read, I noticed the words 'difference, distinguish and distinction'. I thought they were synonyms of ... me understand when to use these words myself. Is the use of one better than the other in certain situations?

Yes.
I want to be able to use the words correctly in a sentence.

Well, I for one use "distinguish" as a verb, and "distinction" as the derivative noun.
For "difference", (a noun) I use "differ" or "differentiate" as a verb (and I see some people extending the noun form of the latter into "differentiation").
To differ is to be unlike other items or people, or to have an opinion unlike those of others.
(M-W Online: Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French differer to postpone, be different, from Latin differre, from dis- + ferre to carry

1 a : to be unlike or distinct in nature, form, or characteristics b : to change from time to time or from one instance to another

2 : to be of unlike or opposite opinion)
To differentiate is to grow or to become unlike, or to be able to notice a difference between items.
(M-W Online:
One entry found for differentiate.
Function: verb
transitive senses

1 : to obtain the mathematical derivative of
2 : to mark or show a difference in : constitute a difference thatdistinguishes

3 : to develop differential characteristics in
4 : to cause differentiation of in the course of development
5 : to express the specific distinguishing quality of

intransitive senses

1 : to recognize or give expression to a difference
2 : to become distinct or different in character
3 : to undergo differentiation )
I am able to distinguish (see or tell a difference between items),one item from another because it is differentiated by some particular characteristic of its construction, design, evolutionary variation, age etc.

(from M-W Online: Etymology: Middle French distinguer, from Latin distinguere, literally, to separate by pricking, from dis- + -stinguere (akin to Latin instigare to urge on)
1 : to perceive a difference in : mentally separate

2 a : to mark as separate or different b : to separate into kinds, classes,or categories c : to give prominence or distinction to d : CHARACTERIZE

3 a : DISCERN b : to single out :take special notice of
intransitive senses : to perceive a difference
(Some men are distinguished-looking. . .but we aren't talking about that, are we?)
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For "difference", (a noun) I use "differ" or "differentiate" as a verb (and I see some people extending the noun form of the latter into "differentiation").

What else would be the noun form of "differentiate"?

Ray Heindl
(remove the Xs to reply)
For "difference", (a noun) I use "differ" or "differentiate" as ... people extending the noun form of the latter into "differentiation").

What else would be the noun form of "differentiate"?

Differential? Well, frequent usage here and in other places on TV might indicate "differentiatedness or differentiateness". I hate the frequency with which "-ness" is added to make words.
On the other hand, one might actually create "a differentiate", or assume that it exists. I checked in M-W Online, and "differentiate" only has one entry, the verb form, but coining of new words in jargon or specific fields might require such a coinage, mightn't it? (v. "pontificate"->n. "a pontificate", "particulate"->"a particulate"). That the "a" in the last syllable would become a schwa sound.
I dare suggest that such a word might be useful in discussing biological variations, mutants, etc.