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

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 Shifting gears, some might leverage this same logic to argue that a suitable way to discern whether someone is embodying undue biases and discriminatory beliefs would be to find someone that already harbors such tendencies. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 15 June 2022 The report offers no way to discern how respondents ranked their priorities. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 21 July 2022 These new features largely depend on user judgment to discern harmful content, which means that TikTok’s policy still places the safety of its users in their own hands. Ashley Belanger, Ars Technica, 13 July 2022 In an attempt to discern a central bank digital currency from existing forms of money, the paper defines a CBDC as a digital liability of a central bank that is widely available to the general public and analogous to a digital form of paper money. Christian Kameir, Forbes, 7 July 2022 Pixar robs Millennial audiences of the capacity to discern behavioral and personality details that distinguished Buzz from cowboy Woody. Armond White, National Review, 17 June 2022 Gaia wasn't originally designed to detect the phenomenon but was able to discern strong movement on the surface of thousands of stars, including some where starquakes had seldom been seen before. Katie Hunt, CNN, 13 June 2022 The information would give Mr. Musk the tools to discern how many accounts on Twitter’s platform may be fake. New York Times, 8 June 2022 The true status of the investigation remains difficult to discern. New York Times, 9 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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

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

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Last Updated

14 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Discern.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discern. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on discern

Nglish: Translation of discern for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of discern for Arabic Speakers


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