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 Reehil, acting in his role as pastor, discerned that the Harry Potter series was not appropriate for the library for a variety of reasons and chose not to include them in the new space. Cnn.com Wire Service, The Mercury News, "Nashville school pastor dumps Potter books over ‘evil spirits’," 3 Sep. 2019 According to new studies, women discern pain more frequently than men, even when exposed to the same stimuli. Halley Bondy, NBC News, "In the know: Women in the news 8/26-8/30," 30 Aug. 2019 Some people, after all, discern the shape of the Virgin Mary in a piece of burned toast. The Economist, "Darwin was more Christian than he thought," 29 Aug. 2019 By measuring the genes being actively used or the gene expression in individual cells, scientists can discern the function of each cell. Lydia Denworth, Scientific American, "Scientists Start Building a Parts List for the Brain," 21 Aug. 2019 No less discerning a pop critic than Morrissey recently released a faithful cover version, with backup vocals by Billie Joe Armstrong. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "The 100 Best Songs of 1969: Staff Picks," 14 Aug. 2019 But going there, Stern and Fennelly have wisely discerned, would undercut the underlying human drama of the show. Christopher Arnott, courant.com, "Review: 'Fully Committed’ a funny, moving, juggling act from TheaterWorks," 12 Aug. 2019 Forevermark’s new Engagement and Commitment Collection, the first collection by the diamond brand, offers similarly discerning brides (and grooms) a variety of styles, with a sparkling array of diamonds to match. Olivia Martin, Town & Country, "How Ashley Graham Found the Perfect Engagement Ring," 15 July 2019 In several shots, the crocodile appears to have completely disappeared down the python’s gullet, but upon closer inspection, viewers can discern the end of the animal’s spiked tail peeking out of the snake’s mouth. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "See a Python Swallow a Crocodile Whole," 12 July 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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Statistics for discern

Last Updated

27 Oct 2019

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 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

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).


meddlesome, informal, or unofficial

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