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We have these adjective meanings:

Remote
1. far apart; far distant in space.
2. out-of-the-way; secluded: a remote village.
3. distant in time, relationship, connection, etc.: remote antiquity; a remote ancestor.
4. far off; abstracted; removed: principles remote from actions.
5. not direct or primary; not directly involved or influential: the remote causes of the war.
6. slight or faint; unlikely: a remote chance.
7. reserved and distant in manner.
8. operating or controlled from a distance, as by remote control.

Distant
1. far off or apart in space; remote.
2. apart or far off in time.
3. remote in any respect: a distant relative.
4. reserved or aloof; not familiar or cordial.
5. arriving from or going to a distance.

I can't understand the difference between “remote” and “distant“?

When do I use remote and distant? For me they are identical.


Next examples don't give a grasp for me (I took them from my self-education):

Remote [rɪˈməʊt]
1. He might know a remote capability of lying but that was useless.
2. I'm not sorry to be as remote from these things as I am.

Distant [ˈdɪst(ə)nt]
1. The hobbits looked anxiously at the distant hills. (Why? Can I say "remote"?)
2. He looked north across a line of rocks, studying a distant escarpment.
3. Light clouds came up out of the sea in the distant South and were blown away upon the breeze.
4. Soon he was beyond the reach of the last rays from the faint and distant Sun.

I think these examples aren't the best.

  • “dispose“? did you mean distant? – user3169 Aug 20 '14 at 18:19
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    I think this question stems from the misguided notion that every English word has a single unique and precise meaning in any given context. But as OP's definitions should make clear, there are many, many contexts where the meanings of remote and distant are indistinguishable. All we can really do here is flag up contexts where they're not equivalent - but that should not be taken to imply there's always a difference. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 20 '14 at 18:28
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    When two words mean the same in many ways, the best practice I feel is to read as many sentences containing these words as possible. Then only, we'd learn where to use what. Here, they might seem identical but not interchangeable in all cases. A distant cousin would sound better with distant. – Maulik V Aug 21 '14 at 5:02
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Yes, they are similar & would be largely interchangeable. A small distinction I can think of:

  • Remote: A defining characteristic of isolation from the perspective of the thing being described. It's far away from absolutely everything.

    The village is remote, with nothing else around for hundreds of miles.

    There's only a remote chance of this thing happening, regardless what other things happen.

  • Distant: relative to a particular point of reference. Distant from what?

    It's only a distant memory (as of now, compared to all my other memories)

    It's in the distant past (measuring from this point in time).

    She seemed distant, like she was thinking about somewhere else (compared to how she usually acts)

But in general, you could probably use either in most cases.

  • My mind improve (If I can say this). I have added examples. – contributorpw Aug 21 '14 at 9:37
  • Note 'remote' is used as antonym of 'local', it doesn't have to mean very distant in that context, only not located at the same place. 'remote control' works across the room, as opposed to buttons built into the device. 'remote facility' may be three blocks away, it's just separate from the main building and its immediate surroundings. – SF. Aug 21 '14 at 10:30
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Let's use the example of an island.

"He landed on a remote island"

Remote carries with it the understanding the thing (in this case an island) is not just far away, it's alone, separated, or isolated. It is far away from everything.

Distant, however, just means that it is far away from a specific point. The sentence "He had landed on a distant island" means the island is far away from something specific, usually this is the current location of the speaker. It is far away from where we are now.

Another example:

"A remote mountain peak" It is a mountain peak that is far away from everything. It is far away from civilization, people, maybe even other mountains.

"A distant mountain peak" Compared to your present location, the mountain peak is far away. There could be a city around it and lots of people or a giant mountain range so it can be distant but not remote.

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The hobbits looked anxiously at the distant hills. (Why? Can I say "remote"?)

Maybe. Distant hills are far away. Remote hills are isolated and secluded. What kind of hills are the hobbits looking at>

That said, I can understand how dictionaries might confuse you on this; after all, they indicate remote can mean "far off." It wouldn't be misusing the word.

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