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I probably shouldn't post this question, but I'm going to anyway because I have yet to see a site that answers it to my satisfaction. I'll admit that I haven't done extensive research on this topic, but it seems that on every page I see this question, it is basically answered with something to the effect that these two words are synonymous and can be used interchangeably and that's how native speakers use them.

The other answer I sometimes see is that they are used in the same way that "different" and "distinct" are used in English. Having said that, it seems to me that there are many more instances of "distinto" than there are of "distinct" (relative to "diferente" and "different," respectively). Since I hate to guess about such things, I did a quick Google search of web pages and my perception is supported by what I found, which can be seen in the chart below:

At a glance you can easily see that users of Spanish and users of English are not using these two words in quite the same way. Otherwise, there wouldn't be such a large difference in the ratios, right? The word "different" is 13 times more frequent (roughly) than "distinct," whereas "diferente" is only four times (roughly) more frequent than "distinto."

Furthermore, there have been times when I used one or the other and have either been corrected or there's a certain strange pause from the native speaker making me think I have once again used "diferente" when I should have used "distinto" or vice versa. And, no, I don't have any specific examples off the top of my head. However, something tells me that there's some sort of way to analyze the usage of these two words so that non-native speakers can get it right more of the time. Perhaps someone, somewhere has already done this.

So, does anyone have a different answer than "these two words are the same" or "they're used exactly the same way they are in the English language"?

*More frequent on web pages.


¿Cuál es la diferencia entre "diferente" y "distinto"?

Probablemente no debería publicar esta pregunta, pero lo haré de todos modos porque aún no he visto un sitio que la responda a mi satisfacción. Admitiré que no he investigado mucho sobre este tema, pero parece que en cada página que veo esta pregunta, se responde básicamente con algo al efecto de que estas dos palabras son sinónimas y se pueden usar indistintamente y así es como las usan los hablantes nativos.

La otra respuesta que veo a veces es que se usan de la misma manera que "diferente" y "distinto" se usan en inglés. Dicho esto, me parece que hay muchos más casos de "distinto" que de "distinct" (en relación con "diferente" y "different", respectivamente). Como odio adivinar esas cosas, hice una rápida búsqueda en Google de páginas web y mi percepción está respaldada por lo que encontré, que se puede ver en el gráfico que figura a continuación:

[Véanse arriba.]

De un vistazo se puede ver fácilmente que los usuarios de español y los usuarios de inglés no están usando estas dos palabras de la misma manera. De lo contrario, no habría una diferencia tan grande en las proporciones, ¿verdad? La palabra "diferente" es 13 veces más frecuente (aproximadamente) que "distinto", mientras que "diferente" es sólo cuatro veces (aproximadamente) más frecuente que "distinto".*

Además, ha habido ocasiones en que he usado una u otra y se han corregido o hay cierta extraña pausa del hablante nativo que me hace pensar que he vuelto a usar "diferente" cuando debería haber usado "distinto" o viceversa. Y, no, no tengo ningún ejemplo específico en la parte superior de mi cabeza. Sin embargo, algo me dice que hay una forma de analizar el uso de estas dos palabras para que los hablantes no nativos puedan hacerlo bien más veces. Tal vez alguien, en algún lugar ya lo ha hecho.

Entonces, ¿alguien tiene una respuesta diferente a "estas dos palabras son iguales" o "se usan exactamente de la misma manera que en el idioma inglés"?

*Más frecuente en las páginas web.

Por el bien del tiempo, traducción realizada, en parte, con la versión gratuita del traductor www.DeepL.com/Translator.

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  • Not gonna answer because it is not the answer you want, but in my own usage, those two words are exactly equivalent, and I am not really sure what motivates me to choose one over the other... There might be regional differences in usage which explain the different (and not distinct) frequencies of use. – wimi Dec 19 '20 at 7:33
  • I dont't quite get why you think that they can't mean the same if one is used more. Most people would say "me duele mucho la cabeza" and not "padezco intensa cefalea", but both still mean exactly the same. If you can think some cases where you believe "diferente" and "distinto" wouldn't mean the same, tell us. – Gaviota Dec 19 '20 at 12:55
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    The applicable ironic expression in English is "...it's a difference without a distinction." – cuevero Dec 19 '20 at 20:35
  • @Gaviota Well, for starters, my question wasn't so much about meaning; it was more about usage. (Note that none of my tags are about meaning.) As for your inability to "get why I think they can't mean the same," I suppose the best answer is that I've been exposed to various things that lead me to believe that nothing is exactly the same ... not even identical twins. I suppose there's a spectrum of personality types — those who tend to see things as similar and those who notice differences (or are curious about what those might be). Clearly, I'm on the latter end of that spectrum. Not sorry. – Lisa Beck Dec 20 '20 at 1:39
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The word "different" is 13 times more frequent (roughly) than "distinct," whereas "diferente" is only four times (roughly) more frequent than "distinto."

I think you are under the wrong impression that "distinct" is equivalent to "distinto." As a matter of fact, these are generally false cognates (colloquially known as "false friends"), that is, words formally similar that have different meanings in both languages.

The term "distinct" is usually translated as nítido, claro, distintivo, not distinto.

That said, there is no semantic difference between "diferente" and "distinto". My view is that "diferente" sometimes sounds a little better (stylistically speaking) than "distinto", as if it were a little more refined.

Note: To support my claim that "distinct" and "distinto" tend to be false cognates, below is a list of their meanings.

distinto1, ta Del lat. distinctus, part. pas. de distinguĕre 'distinguir'.

  1. adj. Que no es lo mismo, que tiene realidad o existencia diferente de aquello otro de que se trata.

  2. adj. Que no es parecido, que tiene diferentes cualidades.

  3. adj. Inteligible, claro, sin confusión.

(Source)

Definition of distinct

1: distinguishable to the eye or mind as being discrete (see DISCRETE sense 1) or not the same : SEPARATE

a distinct cultural group / teaching as distinct from research

2: presenting a clear unmistakable impression

a neat distinct handwriting

3archaic : notably decorated

4a: NOTABLE

a distinct contribution to scholarship

b: readily and unmistakably apprehended (see APPREHEND sense 2a) a distinct possibility of snow / a distinct British accent / the distinct odor of sulfur

(Source)

As we can see above, "distinct" is not defined as "different". In my experience as a translator, to be translation equivalents the two words have to share at least one acceptation, preferably one of the most usual ones in both languages.

As a matter of fact, I would not translate "distinct" as "distinto", or at least that would not be the best translation in my opinion, in any of the examples from Merriam-Webster's (except in the case of teaching/research, where I could use it):

  1. un grupo cultural (bien) diferenciado / la enseñanza como algo separado/diferenciado de la investigación

  2. una escritura clara y prolija

4.a. un claro aporte al conocimiento/aprendizaje académico

4.b. una clara probabilidad de nieve / un marcado acento británico / el olor característico del azufre

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  • I like your answer, but it could be better for a couple of reasons. Your tone makes the person who posted the question feel stupid ("I'm afraid you are under the wrong assumption …") and there's really no need for it especially since the very first synonym listed for "diferente" is "distinto" and vice versa ... See for yourself here and here. – Lisa Beck Dec 20 '20 at 2:03
  • In general, no matter what your real opinion is of a question, it never hurts to say “Good question …” if you can. If you can’t then you can say something like, “I’m not sure if you know this or not, but a lot of people are under the mistaken impression that …” and then launch into whichever distinction(s) you wish to make. – Lisa Beck Dec 20 '20 at 2:04
  • I’ve always enjoyed your answers, Gustavson, but lately the ones you’ve given me haven’t been your best. You seem highly intelligent with a lot to offer the world with your knowledge of Spanish, so I am sure these are anomalies from your body of contributions to this forum. – Lisa Beck Dec 20 '20 at 2:04
  • Incidentally, you will find pages and pages where students of Spanish ask this question. And on top of that, the fact that the presence of "distinto" on lists of false cognates is few and far between. As for the false cognate, "distinct" is synonymous with "different" in English. Again, it is typically the first synonym listed for it. – Lisa Beck Dec 20 '20 at 2:05
  • Perhaps, technically speaking, the meaning of "distinct" is a bit more refined, as you have suggested by listing synonyms such as "nítido, claro ...," but in common usage they are often used interchangeably. The synonyms you've suggested don't even appear (unless maybe you do a deep dive for them). – Lisa Beck Dec 20 '20 at 2:06

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