Distinct vs. distinctive

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Something that is distinct is (1) easily distinguishable from other things, (2) discrete, or (3) easy to see. Something that is distinctive is an identifying or unique feature of something else—for example, the distinctive leaves of the oak tree, or the distinctive voice of Bob Dylan. This is the traditional definition of distinctive, anyway. It is often used in place of distinct, especially in the latter’s first sense.


Sky-high TV ratings and well-honed messages give presidential debates a distinct air of egalitarianism. [Washington Post]

The first non-Briton to run British American Tobacco, he speaks English with the thick, distinctive nasal tone of his native São Paulo. [Financial Times]

Quite distinct from northern France’s prized pre-sale (salt-meadow) lamb, Woods’s sheep graze native old-man saltbush. [The Australian]

The use of a distinctive headlight design and brilliant white LEDs along with a full suite of SkyActiv technologies is driving the push to be different.[National Post]

Talking of heat, Merc’s new roadster comes in three distinct flavours. [Independent Online]

Every writer is cursed or blessed with a unique creative metabolism: the distinctive speed and efficiency with which he or she converts the raw fuel of life into the mystical, dancing blue smoke of art. [New York Times]