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I'm trying to find a word that means something akin to "differentiate" but in a positive manner (i.e. superior to something else). The phrase "to stand out" is about the closest I can think of, but it doesn't work in the context of the sentence. Here is the sentence I am working with:

"First, we must identify the aspects of cognition that _______ humans."

I know I could use something similar to "separate/differentiate humans from other species", but I use both "humans" and "other species" in the next sentence, so I would really like to add some variety to my word choice.

  • Not sure what I'm missing, but I don't see how "stand out" doesn't work in this context. "First, we must identify the aspects of cognition that make humans stand out". Work perfectly fine for me on every level. And why does it need to be a verb to begin with. "We must identify the aspects of cognition that make humans special/different/superior/whatever." – RegDwigнt May 27 '18 at 20:59
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    "that are unique to humans" or "that characterize humans". The problem with the first is that it is getting harder to define behavior and capabilities that are absolutely "unique" to the third ape. – ab2 Jun 27 '18 at 21:11
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distinguish TFD

To perceive as being different or distinct: "Can you distinguish a pattern in this behavior?" To perceive distinctly; discern: "The lookout distinguished the masts of ships on the horizon". To demonstrate or describe as being different or distinct. To be an identifying characteristic of; make noticeable or different: "These spices distinguish this style of Asian cooking".

As in your sentence:

First, we must identify the aspects of cognition that distinguishes humans.

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The problem is you want a single word that encompasses both differentiates and makes better than. The answer distinguish is good for the one sense—but it doesn't have the same normative meaning that its adjectival form (distinguished) commonly does. (You can also distinguish something that is of bad quality.)

A different word, one that is more directly related to makes better than, is elevate:

to raise in rank or status · was elevated to chairman

In your sense, you need to identify the aspects of cognition that elevate humans (above other species).

Here, something like the parenthetical phrase would also be required for it to make sense.

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Why not simply: "First, we must identify the OUTSTANDING aspects of human cognition."

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