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

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
Recent Examples on the Web The researchers tested this system using a search-and-find maze game called Gnomes at Night and found that the AI was able to discern human intentions far faster with the help of language (which is a fairly intuitive finding). Jeremy Kahn, Fortune, 28 May 2024 On Wednesday, Target reported weaker-than-expected first quarter earnings, which was led by a pullback in spending from shoppers that are being more discerning with their money, according to Brian Cornell, Target’s chief executive. Francisco Velasquez, Quartz, 22 May 2024 The Biden White House’s political strategy is not difficult to discern. The Editors, National Review, 22 May 2024 His first few starts in High-A Aberdeen make that hard to discern. Sam Cohn, Baltimore Sun, 1 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for discern 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'discern.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 13 Jun. 2024.

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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