1. Serving to identify; distinguishing or characteristic: the distinctive call of the hermit thrush. See Usage Note at distinct.
2. Distinguished or attractive: "Her forefinger tracked the cleft in his chin, and she thought how distinctive it made him look" (Joan Johnston).
3. Linguistics Phonemically relevant and capable of conveying a difference in meaning, as nasalization in the initial sound of mat versus bat.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.