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

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

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 This might not fly with a local investor, who’s more adept at discerning cultural differences. Shuli Ren | Bloomberg, Washington Post, "Dear Alibaba, Thank You for the $10 Trillion Gift," 27 Nov. 2019 The difficulty in discerning a pattern has of course not stopped pundits from trying. The Economist, "Why are so many countries witnessing mass protests?," 4 Nov. 2019 Not in terms of location — that will always be speculative until the games are confirmed — but in discerning whether the Hoosiers might go bowling at all. Zach Osterman, Indianapolis Star, "Now that IU football is bowl eligible, where will the Hoosiers land?," 28 Oct. 2019 Vortex Crossfire II 4-16x50mm AO BDC | $279 Vortex has become a household name for discerning long-range shooting enthusiasts. Field & Stream, "10 Best Budget Riflescopes," 12 Sep. 2019 But with flu season in full swing, tens of millions of Americans already have respiratory symptoms, and doctors have no quick way to discern who should be tested. Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times, "Coronavirus Testing Offered With Just a Doctor’s Approval, C.D.C. Says," 10 Mar. 2020 After launch, currently planned for 2021, the instrument’s keen eyes should be able to discern enough detail in the dimming of Kepler-51 and similar host stars to distinguish between alien ring worlds, dust streams, and super puffs. Charlie Wood, Popular Science, "These ‘super puff’ planets have the same density as cotton candy," 27 Dec. 2019 One reason for having it dealt with through impeachment, rather than by trusting that the electorate would be able to discern its presence and act accordingly, was a sense that a corrupt president might be able to rig an election. The Economist, "The politics and history behind Donald Trump’s impeachment," 12 Dec. 2019 By sequencing each gene in the human genome—all 26,000, for the first time ever—oncologists are able to discern the root cause of specific cancers at the inception in order to better treat—and prevent—the disease going forward. Vogue, "With Valentino, Memorial Sloan Kettering Hosted Its Yearly Fall Party at the Plaza Hotel," 6 Nov. 2019

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 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

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Time Traveler for discern

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for discern

Last Updated

25 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Discern.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discern. Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for discern


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

Kids Definition of discern

: to see, recognize, or understand something

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More from Merriam-Webster on discern

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for discern

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with discern

Spanish Central: Translation of discern

Nglish: Translation of discern for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of discern for Arabic Speakers

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