The male bird has distinctive white markets on its head.

According to Oxford Advanced Learner's English-Chinese Dictionary 7th Edition, page 580, the word distinct has the meaning of ''easily or clearly heard, seen, felt, etc. ''

while the word ''distinctive'' has the meaning of ''having a quality or characteristic that makes something different and easily noticed''

Could I use distinct in that sentence above, if they are interchangeable in that case, would there be any difference in its meaning ?

There is also another example from the dictionary that makes me confused:

There was a distinct smell of gas.

and I also found a sentence from English language and usage written as :

...from somewhere nearby came the distinctive smell of new rubber.

Which sentence would be right ?

  • Yeah, I have done that but shame I still cant see the difference. @Theta30
    – Clarity94
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 6:55
  • english.stackexchange.com/q/44196/16833
    – Em1
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 8:10
  • Perhaps you've done that already, but, if that's the case, you're under obligation to at least share what you found, what you understood, and where you would like further clarification. Otherwise, this question, as written, would simply send others here scurrying for the dictionary, to copy-and-paste what they found there. So, if you hadn't looked up the words, it would have been your job to do first. If you had looked up the words, such an answer wouldn't answer your question, and therefore would be a waste of time for both you and the person doing research in an effort to help you.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 9:28
  • 3
    Epilogue: I applaud your edit and look forward to seeing how this exemplary question gets answered.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 13:36

1 Answer 1


Contrasting "a distinctive smell ... " to "a distinct smell....".

The former means that the smell is different from other smells. The latter means the smell is easily sensed. So, in a situation where there are many competing odors, a distinctive smell might not be distinct. For example, in a room where a lot of people are wearing perfume, each perfume is likely to be distinctive, but they would not be distinct.

  • 1
    How about these two following examples: 1. The results of the survey fell into two distinct groups 2. Jamaican reggae music is quite distinct from North American jazz or blues. Is it possible to substitute distinctive for distinct in the two cases?(Both are from OALD dictionary in the entry for distinct) Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 7:28
  • 1
    No, I don't think that would be right. I'm not sure exactly why not ... Maybe someone else will have a good explanation.
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 12:14
  • Thank you for your reply. But if you can, any abstract or casual explanation will be helpful to me anyway. :) Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 19:08
  • 1
    Two distinct groups means two groups that can be distinguished from each other or that are separate somehow. Two distinctive groups means groups that have some sort of unusual characteristic. There's a subtle difference.
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 11:23
  • 1
    Thank you.:) I understand your answer now. Have a good day. Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 7:20

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