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

The benefits for pure consumers may be a little harder to discern—though VR features compatible with SteamVR, improved game performance, and a dark theme, have all been nice additions. Peter Bright, Ars Technica, "Microsoft’s problem isn’t how often it updates Windows—it’s how it develops it," 20 Oct. 2018 That’s really difficult to discern in this media environment. Recode Staff, Recode, "How bots amplify hoaxes and propaganda on social media," 2 Aug. 2018 His chestnut mop turned a luxuriant white long ago, but a few nips and tucks make his actual age — 68 — hard to discern. Jay Cheshes, Town & Country, "Caviar and Cocaine," 6 Feb. 2013 But Fucci’s main objective will likely be to establish Theory as the go-to for discerning, stylish types of all ages who expect a lot from their clothes: quality, luxury, and ease, sure, but also an emotional pull. Emily Farra, Vogue, "Francesco Fucci’s New Vision for Theory Is All About Vibes," 2 Nov. 2018 The report also omits a key technical distinction: The test cannot discern between indigenous North- and South-American ancestry. WSJ, "Sen. Warren Provides DNA Proof of Silliness," 17 Oct. 2018 This change in track can be discerned from the ensemble forecast from the European model initialized at 8am Monday (12:00 UTC) on the left in the image below, and the European model initialized at 8pm Tuesday (00:00 UTC Wednesday). Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "The Hurricane Florence forecast has gone from bad to worse," 12 Sep. 2018 At this current point, there is a need to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump’s comments,’’ Seoul’s Defense Ministry said, adding that there have been no discussions yet with Washington on modifying drills set for August. Foster Klug, BostonGlobe.com, "Trump’s vow to end military drills with South Korea stuns a region," 12 June 2018 The remake is also the movie debut of Director X, a filmmaker primarily known for his stylish music videos that appeal to discerning aesthetes and hypebeasts alike. Joshua Rivera, GQ, "The SuperFly Trailer Remakes a Classic...with Bitcoin," 7 May 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

8 Dec 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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More from Merriam-Webster on discern

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with discern

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for discern

Spanish Central: Translation of discern

Nglish: Translation of discern for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of discern for Arabic Speakers

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).


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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