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 At the time, YouTube allegedly didn't discern between potentially underage visitors who might be visiting explicitly kid-friendly content and visitors ages 13 and up. Kate Cox, Ars Technica, "YouTube decides it’s easier to treat all watchers of kids’ content as kids," 6 Jan. 2020 By timing the photons’ path from the emission from Atlas, to the surface of the Earth, and then back to the satellite in space, ICESat-2 can discern tiny elevation changes in the world below. Jon Gertner, Scientific American, "How a New Wave of Orbiting Sentinels Is Changing Climate Science," 6 Jan. 2020 This kind of greed means scientific results are subject to justifiable skepticism at the exact moment that anti-science forces benefit the most from cynicism about science’s ability to discern truth. Wired Staff, Wired, "WIRED's 7 Big Science Stories That Shaped 2019," 23 Dec. 2019 The people must possess a shared sense of reality and the ability to discern truth from lies. Doug Friednash, The Denver Post, "Friednash: Trump’s assault on the truth has endangered our republic," 22 Nov. 2019 An archer's rangefinder should also have the ability to discern game from non-target subjects, such as tree trunks, leaves, and branches. The Editors, Field & Stream, "Three Features to Consider in Your Next Rangefinder," 27 Sep. 2019 Brady also threw his first pick-six of the year, on a pass that was difficult to discern if it was intended for Sony Michel or Julian Edelman. BostonGlobe.com, "FOXBOROUGH – Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 27-24 loss to the Dolphins:," 31 Dec. 2019 The consequences for commercial fisheries and the ocean's food webs are difficult to discern but could be significant. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Major fish nurseries are awash in microplastics," 14 Nov. 2019 The exact details of Iran’s move were difficult to discern. Michael Wolgelenter, New York Times, "Iran Steps Further From Nuclear Deal With Move on Centrifuges," 5 Nov. 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.

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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

3 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Discern.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discerned. Accessed 16 Feb. 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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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

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