dis·cern | \di-ˈsərn, -ˈzərn \

Definition of discern 

(Entry 1 of 2)

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: Verb

The Kremlin discerns a bit of envy, as well, on the part of the American president. Washington Post, "How the Kremlin turned the Russian president into a global icon," 12 July 2018 How will schools discern a student’s writing ability now? Naomi Schaefer Riley, WSJ, "Save the SAT Writing Test," 8 July 2018 Like a host of contemporary playwrights, New Yorker Jen Silverman hasn't fully discerned the difference between creating characters and assembling signifiers. Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader, "An Iowa housewife and her mismatched Roommate learn to live together and like it," 3 July 2018 By examining data spanning nearly three Martian years (six Earth years), Webster and his colleagues discerned the first repeating pattern in Martian methane. Author: Sarah Kaplan, Anchorage Daily News, "Newest NASA discoveries could boost search for ancient life on Mars," 8 June 2018 The signing of Salt & Straw underscores the center’s suburban-chic vibe, designed to bring together premium retailers, trendy eateries and modern fitness concepts for the discerning beach city dweller. Jennifer Van Grove, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Salt & Straw to open second San Diego scoop shop at One Paseo," 3 July 2018 Carpenter is famously one of the most patient hitters in baseball with a discerning eye for the strike zone. Michael Beller, SI.com, "Matt Carpenter's Hitting Resurgence is Thanks to His Increased Aggressiveness," 2 July 2018 Most will find out in the usual way; after having tiny blobs of tissue slurped up through a needle, smeared and stained on a slide, and put under the discerning eye of a pathologist. Megan Molteni, WIRED, "With Medicare Support, Genetic Cancer Testing Goes Mainstream," 20 Mar. 2018 According to designer Guinevere Johnson of Homepolish, a discerning taste in materials and art defines Chicagoans' homes. Devin Alessio, ELLE Decor, "5 Different Loft Design Styles Across The Country," 5 Aug. 2016

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

13 Oct 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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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 teach someone the beliefs of a group

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