I asked myself after reading in academic advanced Cambridge the following definition of matter and its properties, states.

In physics, the properties of matter are distinguished in the three following classes: Solid, Liquid, Gaseous

I talked to a girl friend. She is speaking native English and she is a English teacher for kids. She said, that "distinguished", in her view, isn't commonly used. It's more common to use "divided" and she said also to define the "States of Matter", "distinct classes" would describe it better. What I would also confirm.

So I worked out the following definition:

In physical science, the properties of matter are divided into (or in?) three distinct classes called states as following: solids, liquid, gaseous.

Question: would it be better to use "distinguished", use "distinguished" with "in" or "into", and same for "divided into" or "in"?

  • As an erstwhile chemist I understand there to be four physical states - solid, gas, liquid and plasma. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_matter
    – Nigel J
    Nov 14, 2017 at 12:36
  • I know, but i wasn't sure to mention it. Would you ?
    – FrankMK
    Nov 14, 2017 at 23:25
  • Well, it's only a technicality. There are others as well but they're very exotic.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 15, 2017 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


The words "divide" and "distinguish" both work perfectly well. Merriam-Webster lists this sense for each of these words.

divide (v.) 1b. to separate into classes, categories, or divisions - divide history into epochs

distinguish (v.) 2b. to separate into kinds, classes, or categories - distinguish words by their part of speech

Which is better? That's subjective. Personally I prefer "distinguish", because I feel like the primary meaning of "distinguish" is closer to your intended meaning.

I would say that the distinctness of these classes is pretty much implied, so it's unnecessary to add the adjective "distinct" - especially if you use the verb distinguish, which strongly implies a distinction between things.

The preposition you place after these words ("in" or "into") is a little tricky. You can divide a cake into many slices, but you also can divide a cake in half. In your example, you would follow the verb "divide" with the preposition "into": e.g. the properties of matter are divided into three classes. But if you use "distinguish", then you would follow the verb with the preposition "in": e.g. the properties of matter are distinguished in three classes.

  • Thanks, at least i was wondering about "distinguished to" while, as you say "distinguish in" would work fine. I personal prefer a phrase like this to figure it more. Matter can exist in three distinct forms, liquid,solid and gaseous. Also called properties or states. your example of cutting, you cutt into, mountains devide lowlands from the coast. And "distinguished by their characteristics".
    – FrankMK
    Nov 13, 2017 at 20:43
  • These verbs can take a handful of prepositions. You can say that people are divided by their beliefs. That cockatiels are distinguished by their crests. That, in your example, the properties of matter are distinguished in the three following classes. Or, the properties of matter are divided into the three following classes. But once again, I prefer distinguish.
    – ktm5124
    Nov 13, 2017 at 20:47
  • "to distinguish" means "to make distinct"; and "distinguished by [agents]" is the most common form.
    – AmI
    Nov 13, 2017 at 22:08
  • @Aml That's a good definition. I did say that "distinguish" strongly implies distinctness. But defining the verb in terms of the adjective makes sense and is quite useful.
    – ktm5124
    Nov 13, 2017 at 22:09
  • the essence: Matter appears in three distinguishable forms (distinct is in the word distinguish, i believe, from sound and meaning).
    – FrankMK
    Nov 14, 2017 at 13:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.