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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The difference in academic reputation among Howard County schools is a mystery to me, and the corresponding difference in ratings on real estate websites even more difficult to discern. baltimoresun.com, "Letters: Readers sound off on Howard schools redistricting plan," 3 Dec. 2019 Meanwhile, biologists are busy trying to discern whether urban coyotes are bolder than rural coyotes, and if that is reflected in populations across the country. National Geographic, "Coyotes have expanded their range to 49 states—and show no signs of stopping.," 29 Nov. 2019 Now local courts are having to grapple with First Amendment and Second Amendment implications while trying to discern whether troubling comments are just crass shenanigans or isolated outbursts, or justifiable reasons to take a person’s guns. Mike Baker, New York Times, "He Wrote ‘Kill All Women,’ but a Judge Returned His Guns," 18 Nov. 2019 Researchers have conducted multiple studies of contributors to wiki projects, trying to discern what exactly makes someone spend their time on something that doesn’t have immediate material rewards. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "How to Make a Website," 11 Nov. 2019 Policymakers, analysts and scholars trying to discern the retailer’s motives and objectives chalked it up to a public relations move or the natural result of a tight labor market. Scott F. Latham, The Conversation, "What Amazon’s decision to retrain a third of its employees means for the future of work," 19 July 2019 Using what’s known as neural network technology, the AI system will be trained to discern what’s happening by learning from reams of imaging captured with sensors installed in the walls of patient rooms. Rebecca Robbins, STAT, "Stanford’s new hospital is brimming with futuristic tech. Will it help save money — or drive up costs?," 18 Nov. 2019 Would a facial recognition app eliminate cases of mistaken identity if it weren’t designed by a team of all-white designers, who created a product skewed to discern Caucasian features but not features of other ethnicities? Kush Saxena, Quartz, "Engineers need a required course in ethics," 8 Nov. 2019 This is intended to discern the contributions to a trait of large numbers of genetic differences that each have a small effect. The Economist, "Migrants from coalfields take DNA as well as talent with them," 23 Oct. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about discern

Time Traveler for discern

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for discern

Last Updated

8 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Discern.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discern?pronunciation&lang=en_us&dir=d&file=discer02. Accessed 14 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

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 assail by words or arguments

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!