dis·cern | \ di-ˈsərn , -ˈzərn \

Definition of discern 

transitive verb

1a : to detect with the eyes discerned a figure approaching through the fog

b : to detect with senses other than vision discerned a strange odor

2 : to recognize or identify as separate and distinct : discriminate discern right from wrong

3 : to come to know or recognize mentally unable to discern his motives

intransitive verb

: to see or understand the difference

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Other words from discern

discerner noun
discernible or less commonly discernable \di-ˈsər-nə-bəl, -ˈzər- \ adjective
discernibly \-blē \ adverb

Examples of discern in a Sentence

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 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 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 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 The reasons behind this sudden change are difficult to discern. barely able to discern the garden gate through the mist
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Recent Examples on the Web

By the end of the play, divine providence is much harder to discern. The Economist, "On stage, the saga of the Lehman brothers is a parable of America," 12 July 2018 Any symbolic victory for the British is far harder to discern. Ian Bremmer, Time, "The United Kingdom’s ‘Brexit Dream’ has Become a Waking Nightmare," 12 July 2018 But for others enmeshed in the nearly week-old drama — including Mayor Kenney and his Police Department — the future is harder to discern and fraught with risk. Chris Palmer, Philly.com, "For 'Abolish ICE' protesters and the targets of their ire, what's next?," 6 July 2018 Life is getting harder to discern from dystopic fiction like Black Mirror or The Handmaid's Tale. Laura Norkin, Glamour, "‘Päntsdrunk’ Is the Scandinavian Wellness Trend We Need Right Now," 29 May 2018 But the signal is hard to discern in the maelstrom of radio noise from terrestrial sources and other objects across the universe. Daniel Clery, Science | AAAS, "China’s moon mission will probe cosmic dark ages," 16 May 2018 Over a period of weeks the group was able to discern that the hacker, who remains anonymous, was able to hack a computer of the 432d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's Reaper Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer In Charge (AMU OIC). David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Air Force Drone Documents Are Being Sold on Dark Web," 11 July 2018 The theory was that if each side argued its point of view and forcefully pushed its case a jury could discern where the truth lay. Longreads, "The Bungled Bank Robbery That Ended in a Landmark Legal Ruling," 26 June 2018 It’s easier to be discerning and more fairly critical of the guys who are back for more. Jeremy Woo, SI.com, "The Summer League Leap: Second-Year Players Making an Impact in Las Vegas," 9 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'discern.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of discern

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for discern

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

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Learn More about discern

Statistics for discern

Last Updated

1 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for discern

The first known use of discern was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for discern


dis·cern | \ di-ˈsərn , -ˈzərn \
discerned; discerning

Kids Definition of discern

: to see, recognize, or understand something

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Comments on discern

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


alleviating pain or harshness

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