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 (dĭf′ər-əns, dĭf′rəns)
1. The quality or condition of being unlike or dissimilar.
a. An instance of disparity or unlikeness: There is a big difference in sound between a clarinet and an oboe.
b. A degree or amount by which things differ: a difference in height of three inches.
3. A noticeable change or effect: Exercise has made a difference in her health.
4. A disagreement or controversy: Let's settle our differences.
5. Discrimination in taste or choice; distinction: In this case, the law should make no difference between young and old.
6. Mathematics
a. The amount by which one quantity is greater or less than another.
b. The amount that remains after one quantity is subtracted from another.
tr.v. dif·fer·enced, dif·fer·enc·ing, dif·fer·enc·es
To distinguish or differentiate.
Synonyms: difference, dissimilarity, unlikeness, divergence, variation, distinction, discrepancy
These nouns refer to a lack of correspondence or agreement. Difference is the most general: differences in color and size; a difference of degree but not of kind.
Dissimilarity and unlikeness often suggest a wide or fundamental difference: the dissimilarity between human and computer language; attracted to each other by their very unlikeness.
However, dissimilarity is also used to emphasize the points of difference between things that are otherwise alike or comparable: an analysis of the dissimilarities between the two sets of data.
Divergence can denote a difference resulting from a branching or separation; alternatively, it can indicate a range of difference within a category: the growing divergence between British and American English; a large group with a divergence of opinions on the subject.
Variation occurs between things of the same class or species; often it refers to a modification of something original, prescribed, or typical: variations in temperature; a variation of a familiar technique.
Distinction often means a difference in detail determinable only by close inspection: the distinction between "good" and "excellent."
A discrepancy is a difference between things that should correspond or match: a discrepancy between his words and his actions.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


  1. Alike as the gap between Little League and Major League —Anon
  2. Alike as an oil portrait and a polaroid snapshot —Anon
  3. Alike as a cliche and a sonnet —Rod MacLeish, National Public Radio, December 29, 1986

    In his obituary on mystery writer John MacDonald, MacLeish used the simile to point out the difference between MacDonald’s Travis McGee character with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe.

  4. Alike as a mom and pop grocery store and a multi-national corporation —Anon
  5. Alike as an abacus and a computer —Anon
  6. Alike as an elephant and a giraffe —Anon
  7. Alike as grains of sand —Anon
  8. Alike as human faces —Anon
  9. Alike as six pebbles on the beach —Eudora Welty
  10. Alike as the gap between doing a gig at a neighborhood wedding and being on prime time TV —Anon
  11. Alike as an apple is to a lobster —John Ray’s Proverbs

    A variation on the same theme, also from John Ray’s Proverbs is “As alike as an apple is to an oyster.” Other entries in this section merely hint at the endless twists possible.

  12. As like this as a crab’s like an apple —William Shakespeare

    Here we have the above simile turned around, with the apple the comparison.

  13. (In this world it is rarely possible to settle matters with an “either, or,” since there are) as many gradations of emotion and conduct as there are stages between a hooked nose and one that turns up —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  14. Different as a moonbeam from lightning, as frost from fire —Emily Brontë
  15. (You and I are as) different as chalk and cheese —John Ray’s Proverbs
  16. Opposite as yea and nay —Francis Quarles
  17. (Two faces) different as hot and cold —Dannie Abse
  18. Different as three men singing the same chorus from three men playing three tunes on the same piano —G. K. Chesterton
  19. Different as yin from yang —Harry Prince
  20. Everything has in fact another side to it, like the moon —G. K. Chesterton
  21. Sharply defined as salt and pepper —Anon
  22. The difference between vivacity and wit is the same as the difference between the lightning-bug and lightning —Josh Billings
  23. Various as the fancies of men in pursuit of a wife —James Ralph
Similes Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1988 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
The explanation, I think, is simple: from long-continued study they are strongly impressed with the differences between the several races; and though they well know that each race varies slightly, for they win their prizes by selecting such slight differences, yet they ignore all general arguments, and refuse to sum up in their minds slight differences accumulated during many successive generations.
Some little effect may, perhaps, be attributed to the direct action of the external conditions of life, and some little to habit; but he would be a bold man who would account by such agencies for the differences of a dray and race horse, a greyhound and bloodhound, a carrier and tumbler pigeon.
Such, then, are the differences of the arts with respect to the medium of imitation.
Such are Dithyrambic and Nomic poetry, and also Tragedy and Comedy; but between them the difference is, that in the first two cases these means are all employed in combination, in the latter, now one means is employed, now another.
In order to prove conclusively that mnemic phenomena arise whenever certain physiological conditions are fulfilled, we ought to be able actually to see differences between the brain of a man who speaks English and that of a man who speaks French, between the brain of a man who has seen New York and can recall it, and that of a man who has never seen that city.
The state of equilibrium before the stimulus may be called the "primary indifference-state"; that after the cessation of the stimulus, the "secondary indifference-state." We define the "engraphic effect" of a stimulus as the effect in making a difference between the primary and secondary indifference-states, and this difference itself we define as the "engram" due to the stimulus.
Differences of degree there were, of course; but no one more delicately and definitely knew those differences than did Jerry himself.
But there was a difference. There were gods and gods, and Jerry was not long in learning that in the hierarchy of the heaven of these white-gods on the Ariel, the sailorizing, ship-working ones were far beneath the captain and his two white-and-gold-clad officers.
At first sight the difference does not seem great in either line of dealing with the difficult problem of limitations.
It was not in his calmness that she read his comparative difference. He was not calm; his spirits were evidently fluttered; there was restlessness about him.
The difference in affection, of parents towards their several children, is many times unequal; and sometimes unworthy; especially in the mothers; as Solomon saith, A wise son rejoiceth the father, but an ungracious son shames the mother.
Some persons will probably say, that the employments of the state ought to be given according to every particular excellence of each citizen, if there is no other difference between them and the rest of the community, but they are in every respect else alike: for justice attributes different things to persons differing from each other in their character, according to their respective merits.