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verb dis·cern \di-ˈsərn, -ˈzərn\

Definition of discern

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 a :  to detect with the eyes <discerned a figure approaching through the fog> b :  to detect with senses other than vision <discerned a strange odor>

  3. 2 :  to recognize or identify as separate and distinct :  discriminate <discern right from wrong>

  4. 3 :  to come to know or recognize mentally <unable to discern his motives>

  5. intransitive verb
  6. :  to see or understand the difference

discerner noun
discernible also discernable play \-ˈsər-nə-bəl, -ˈzər-\ adjective
discernibly play \-blē\ adverb

Examples of discern in a sentence

  1. A careful analysis of the “Nutrition Facts” panels might provide some guidance, but you would have to do a lot of math before you could discern the best choice. —David L. Katz, O, The Oprah Magazine, August 2008

  2. The ability to discern value at a glimpse, to sift the useful out of the rejected with as little expenditure of energy as possible, is the great talent of the scavenger. —Matthew Power, Harper's, December 2006

  3. Astronomers are delighted to have found 19 galaxies that appear to be bent out of shape. The distorted images are cosmic mirages, arcs or rings of light created when the gravity of a massive foreground object bends and magnifies the light from a galaxy lying behind it. Albert Einstein predicted the effect … in 1936, but telescopes at the time weren't powerful enough to discern it. —R. Cowen, Science News, 21 Jan. 2006

  4. Despite the layers of ironic hesitation, the reader soon discerns that the emotions informing the book are raw and, more importantly, authentic. —Publishers Weekly, 13 Dec. 1999

  5. The reasons behind this sudden change are difficult to discern.

  6. <barely able to discern the garden gate through the mist>

Origin of discern

Middle English, from Middle French discerner, from Latin discernere to separate, distinguish between, from dis- apart + cernere to sift — more at dis-, certain

First Known Use: 14th century

DISCERN Defined for Kids


verb dis·cern \di-ˈsərn, -ˈzərn\

Definition of discern for Students


  1. :  to see, recognize, or understand something

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up discern? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to dishevel or rumple

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