I am not sure how to ask questions to find differences between two matters or distinguish them from each other with many similarities that they have as much as many differences. For example:

I want to find how to recognize "X" of "Y".

These questions come in my mind:

  1. How can you recognize/distinguish "X" of "Y"?

  2. How can you recognize/distinguish "X" and "Y"?

  3. How can you recognize/distinguish "X" from "Y"?

  4. What differences/similarities "X" and "Y" have?

  5. Which differences/similarities "X" and "Y" have?

  • 2
    Maybe your question wants to ask "How can one distinguish depression {and / from} sadness?" or "How are depression and sadness similar and different?" They aren't the same thing. Sadness is something that everyone feels sometime or other: it's normal, not pathological. Depression is similar to sadness in some ways, but depression (both topical & clinical depression) is pathological. None of your sentences works. Please rethink your question.
    – user264
    Mar 6, 2013 at 3:25
  • Forget the matter of context. I edited it to be able focus on the question. Mar 7, 2013 at 7:21
  • Interested in how you define matters here. Matter x could be recognised as a case of 'a' with matter y defined as not being so. In seeking to recognise or distinguish between two matters having as many similarities as differences you would probably end up trying to identify a generalised characteristics for each by which to differentiate them? Nov 26, 2015 at 4:49

1 Answer 1


I'm going to guess OP's context is that he has something he knows is either an X or a Y, and he wants to ask how to determine which of the two possibilities it is. That question could be phrased as...

"How can you distinguish X from Y?"

Minor variations include using do instead of can, and I/we instead of you.
Less commonly, perhaps, differentiate, and/or X and Y.

Probably more common in speech (certainly more informal)...

"How can you tell X from Y?"
"How can we tell X and Y apart?"
"How can I tell them apart?"

  • A more formal way to request this might be: Compare and contrast X and Y. The phrase compare and contrast is often used as a request to analyze the similarities and differences between two things, particularly in academic settings (students are often asked write compare-and-contrast essays, for example).
    – J.R.
    Nov 21, 2013 at 17:11
  • @J.R.: Yes, that's certainly a common way of asking students to list significant differences. Which might be OP's intended context (but we don't know because we haven't been given the exact context). I guess it's a matter of whether you want to list/discuss all significant differences (in which case compare/contrast is good), or you just want to identify something as either an X or a Y (in which case it's distinguish/differentiate). Nov 21, 2013 at 18:04

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