Is it distinct or distinctive?

Despite what many people think, these two words are seldom interchangeable. Their meanings are slightly different.

Distinct

This has the meaning of ‘clear’ and ‘unmistakeable’ in the majority of its uses.

Examples:

  • A distinct odour is one which is clear, pronounced, prominent and unmistakeable.
  • ‘There is a distinct noise coming from the crowd.’ This means a clear noise from the lot of them.

Distinctive

This has the meaning of ‘distinguishing’ and ‘setting it apart from others’ in the majority of its uses.

Examples:

  • A distinctive odour is one which is set apart from others for a reason.
  • ‘There is a distinctive noise coming from the crowd.’ This means that there may be an elephant trumpeting among them!