dis·​cern di-ˈsərn How to pronounce discern (audio) -ˈzərn How to pronounce discern (audio)
discerned; discerning; discerns

transitive verb

: to detect with the eyes
discerned a figure approaching through the fog
: to detect with senses other than vision
discerned a strange odor
: to recognize or identify as separate and distinct : discriminate
discern right from wrong
: to come to know or recognize mentally
unable to discern his motives

intransitive verb

: to see or understand the difference
discerner noun

Example Sentences

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web But the athletes who are sometimes tagged in these tweets — who see a familiar logo, and sometime even its team’s account tagged in the body of the post — may not be able to discern the differences between a spam account and a legitimate one. Dallas News, 24 Nov. 2022 Using Hélène’s phone, Eve is able to discern where the Twelve is meeting — on a boat with a wedding as cover. Angelica Jade Bastién, Vulture, 16 Apr. 2022 In regards to two technical details, 60,000 SNPs is more than enough to discern these three ancestral elements. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 16 Apr. 2012 The influx since the start of the Ukraine war has simply supplemented a Russian presence that was already easy to discern. Kim Hjelmgaard, USA Today, 22 Dec. 2022 Usually, political prognosticators have been able to discern the contents of the outstanding votes by tracking trends. Richard Ruelas, The Arizona Republic, 10 Nov. 2022 By zooming in close to these details, paleontologists were able to discern that multituberculates raised their young more like most modern mammals than marsupials or egg-layers like the platypus, according to a recent American Naturalist study. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 Oct. 2022 But online exclusion is harder to discern, call out and punish, and the targets often feel ashamed about it, according to experts. Julie Jargon, WSJ, 19 Nov. 2022 Prior to the invention of the attosecond laser, physicists had no stopwatch precise enough to discern the difference, so many had assumed that the neon atom ejected the electron instantaneously, regardless of the orbital. WIRED, 18 Nov. 2022 See More

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.

Word History


Middle English discernen "to discriminate, perceive rationally, see," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French discerner, borrowed from Latin discernere "to separate, divide off, distinguish," from dis- dis- + cernere "to sift, discern, decide, determine" — more at certain entry 1

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near discern

Cite this Entry

“Discern.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discern. Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


dis·​cern dis-ˈərn How to pronounce discern (audio) diz- How to pronounce discern (audio)
: to detect with the eyes : distinguish
discern an airplane in the clouds
: to come to know, recognize, or understand
discern the basic issue
discern right from wrong
discernibly adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on discern

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