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 But originalist judges recognize an obligation to faithfully interpret the law as written even when the answer is difficult to discern. Brian Hagedorn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Opinion: Originalism, which Amy Coney Barrett espouses, simply means the words of the Constitution are the law.," 15 Oct. 2020 Many of the trails are tough to discern (bring a GPS). Alex Ulam, WSJ, "5 Fall Camping Getaways—From Effortless to Truly Adventurous," 14 Oct. 2020 But after that point, the precise source of any one infection becomes difficult to discern. Gregory Barber, Wired, "New York Is Trying Targeted Lockdowns. Will It Stop a Second Wave?," 12 Oct. 2020 Hers and subsequent investigations—most recently those undertaken by Alexey Rogozhinsky in the early 2000s— have dated the forms, analyzing them to discern what such figures meant to the people who created them. National Geographic, "Shamans, sun gods, warriors: Thousands of Bronze Age petroglyphs mark this ancient site," 8 Oct. 2020 More often than not, citizens could discern the difference. Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, "Nine Days in Wuhan, the Ground Zero of the Coronavirus Pandemic," 5 Oct. 2020 According to Farrow, Telling in Shae's world speaks to the struggle to discern truth in our own. Charles Trepany, USA TODAY, "#MeToo advocate Dylan Farrow creates a world where words are magic in debut novel 'Hush'," 2 Oct. 2020 The Agency for Health Care Administration did not comment on how assisted living facilities will discern whether new cases have occurred during a a 14-day period. Christine Sexton, sun-sentinel.com, "Florida cuts back on some nursing home safeguards that protected sites from COVID," 16 Sep. 2020 Many dreamed that instant access to information would improve our ability to discern truth from lies and good from bad. Rob Bernshteyn, Fortune, "The race for a COVID-19 vaccine shows the power of ‘community intelligence’," 9 Sep. 2020

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

24 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Discern.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discern. Accessed 29 Oct. 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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Comments on discern

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