dis·​cern·​ment di-ˈsərn-mənt How to pronounce discernment (audio)
: the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure : skill in discerning
: an act of perceiving or discerning something
Choose the Right Synonym for discernment

discernment, discrimination, perception, penetration, insight, acumen mean a power to see what is not evident to the average mind.

discernment stresses accuracy (as in reading character or motives or appreciating art).

the discernment to know true friends

discrimination stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent.

the discrimination that develops through listening to a lot of great music

perception implies quick and often sympathetic discernment (as of shades of feeling).

a novelist of keen perception into human motives

penetration implies a searching mind that goes beyond what is obvious or superficial.

lacks the penetration to see the scorn beneath their friendly smiles

insight suggests depth of discernment coupled with understanding sympathy.

a documentary providing insight into the plight of the homeless

acumen implies characteristic penetration combined with keen practical judgment.

a director of reliable box-office acumen

Examples of discernment in a Sentence

I wasn't sanguine about my powers of discernment, as I've failed similar exercises in the Central Park Ramble, where I practice bird-watching for dummies and am scarcely able to distinguish a rook from a duck. Judith Thurman, New Yorker, 1 Dec., 2003
Varying widely in scope and theme, the 10 essays about the Bill of Rights in this collection often shine with insight and sparkling turns of phrase; some, however, betray lack of discernment. Jonathan Kellerman et al., Publishers Weekly, 17 Apr. 2000
If one searched the archives to find an example of Spanish colonial policy at its worst, one would surely select Don Carlos Benites Franquis de Lugo, a vain, arrogant, opinionated fop who never displayed a shred of either courage or discernment but who did distinguish himself as one of the most inept and vengeful Spaniards ever to function overseas. James A. Michener, Texas, 1985
His lack of discernment led to his disastrous choice of business partners. the discernment to know when someone is a true friend
Recent Examples on the Web Instead of running yourself crazy trying to make time for everyone and everything, start to approach your life with more discernment, Aquarius. Meghan Rose, Glamour, 1 Sep. 2023 This lack of politics, despite an all-too-quick reference to one character as a Black Republican, suggests a failure both of imagination and of discernment. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 28 Aug. 2023 The game-like aspects of the series ask viewers to watch carefully, to assign value to small differences, to exercise taste and discernment. Phillip MacIak, The New Republic, 24 Aug. 2023 The point is that AI doesn’t have human discernment. Rhett Power, Forbes, 13 Aug. 2023 The 40-year-old actress has a knack for playing characters with the sort of witty discernment that is formidable for a slick talker like Jerry Buss. Keith Nelson, Men's Health, 15 Aug. 2023 Being able to make this disclosure on your own terms is key, though -- your power gives you the opportunity to use discernment. Tarot Astrologers, Chicago Tribune, 7 Aug. 2023 But Wittman’s sense of discernment is anything but dominant. David Remnick, The New Yorker, 1 Aug. 2023 Part of that discernment includes more empirical data, Creuzot said. Josephine Peterson, Dallas News, 24 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'discernment.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


discern + -ment, perhaps after Middle French discernement

First Known Use

1570, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of discernment was in 1570

Dictionary Entries Near discernment

Cite this Entry

“Discernment.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discernment. Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


dis·​cern·​ment dis-ˈərn-mənt How to pronounce discernment (audio)
: the quality of being able to understand clearly

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