By "in-place replacement" I mean to replace the word without changing the sentence structure. For example:

To distinguish narcotics as either soft or hard.

Can we say that?

In other words, can "distinguish" be used with "as either... or" instead of "between... and"?

I know I could say "to classify" or "to categorize" but I think that these words convey a notion of a somewhat elaborate (or at least non-trivial) process, while I want to convey the meaning of a very simple and direct action.

Another word that I am also not sure I could use is "to differentiate". I think "differentiate" really needs "between... and", right? I can hardly imagine being able to say "To differentiate narcotics as either soft or hard."

The actual (technical) sentence I am working on, if it matters, is "we achieve so-and-so by distinguishing connections as either inputs or outputs."

  • 1
    Are you sure “defining” isn’t what you’re really doing?
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 7:08
  • @Jim I would like to leave "defining" alone here, because further down in the document I describe mechanisms whereby inputs and and outputs are defined in certain ways, so the word is already taken.
    – Mike Nakis
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 9:15

1 Answer 1


I think the word you need is identifying. Identify means:

to perceive or state the identity of (someone or something) (M-W)

If you identify someone or something, you name them or say who or what they are.

  • They identified six plants as having potential for development into pharmaceutical drugs. (Collins)

Distinguish something as something is possible, but less common. It basically means distinguishing that something from the rest, like this other ELU post shows:

Jim looked out the window of the moving car and saw a variety of large buildings dotting the landscape, each with a large mural facing the road. One had a picture of an octopus. Another had a picture of helicopter. Jim didn't know what they all meant, except for one, which had the picture of a happy cow. Jim distinguished it as an old dairy. Here the context implies that Jim is distinguishing this building from the rest of the buildings. He does this by identifying it as an old dairy, whereas he could not identify the other buildings.

  • 1
    thanks! That will do.
    – Mike Nakis
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 9:17

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.