dis·​crim·​i·​nate | \ dis-ˈkri-mə-ˌnāt How to pronounce discriminate (audio) \
discriminated; discriminating

Definition of discriminate

transitive verb

1a : to mark or perceive the distinguishing or peculiar features of Depth perception may be defined as the ability to appreciate or discriminate the third dimension …— H. G. Armstrong
b : distinguish, differentiate discriminate hundreds of colors
2 : to distinguish by discerning or exposing differences : to recognize or identify as separate and distinct discriminate right from wrong especially : to distinguish from another like object discriminate the individual voices in the choir

intransitive verb

1a : to make a distinction discriminate among historical sources discriminates between literary fiction and popular fiction
b : to use good judgment
2 : to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit discriminate in favor of your friends discriminate against a certain nationality

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Synonyms & Antonyms for discriminate


difference, differentiate, discern, distinguish, secern, separate


confuse, mistake, mix (up)

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Did You Know?

Although many methods or motives for discriminating are unfair and undesirable (or even illegal), the verb itself has a neutral history. English speakers borrowed it from the past participle of the Latin verb discriminare, itself from the verb discernere, meaning "to distinguish between." "Discernere," in turn, was formed by combining the prefix dis- and cernere ("to sift"). Other descendants of "discernere" include "discern" and "discernible" (as you no doubt guessed), "discreet," and "indiscretion." In addition, the root "cernere" gives us "concern," "certain," "decree," and even "secret."

Examples of discriminate in a Sentence

The school is not allowed to discriminate. the human eye can discriminate between very slight gradations of color

Recent Examples on the Web

So episodes of Shia rebelliousness carry not just the fear of separatism, or of Iranian interference, but of economic disaster, too. To varying degrees, Shias feel discriminated against across the GCC. The Economist, "Muslims but not brothersSaudi Arabia turns against political Islam," 23 June 2018 If data is sold to marketers or life insurers, there’s a concern that individuals with certain health conditions could be targeted with ads or discriminated against, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum. Te-ping Chen, WSJ, "Your Company Wants to Know if You’ve Lost Weight," 11 Feb. 2019 Some privacy experts caution against how the technology could misfire and discriminate against certain passengers, including those with physical disabilities. Rachel Siegel, latimes.com, "Uber wants a patent on tech to help guess if a rider is drunk," 12 June 2018 Many large internet service providers, including Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal, have pledged to not block or discriminate against traffic. Alyssa Newcomb /, NBC News, "Net neutrality repeal takes effect, but the fight is far from over," 11 June 2018 Pozner then filed a lawsuit against Fox for breaching his employment agreement and discriminating against him on the basis of religion. Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, "Fox Allowed to Sue TV Executive for Violating Sexual Harassment Handbook," 9 Apr. 2018 On August 6, Facebook banned right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones; on August 13, the federal government filed charges saying that Facebook had violated the Fair Housing Act by allowing ads to discriminate against certain groups. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Facebook’s very bad year, explained," 21 Dec. 2018 Efforts such as Campus Pride’s Shame List thus remain key as long as federal law continues to allow institutions to discriminate against their LGBTQ+ students under the guise of religious freedom. Charlotte West, Teen Vogue, "How Title IX Exemptions Allow Religious Colleges to Discriminate Against LGBTQ Students," 15 Oct. 2018 Federal courts have ruled that state Medicaid programs can’t discriminate against Planned Parenthood, Safar said. Guy Boulton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and other groups sue federal government over proposed changes in family-planning program," 2 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'discriminate.' 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 discriminate

1615, in the meaning defined at sense 1b

History and Etymology for discriminate

Latin discriminatus, past participle of discriminare, from discrimin-, discrimen distinction, from discernere to distinguish between — more at discern

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Statistics for discriminate

Last Updated

19 Apr 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for discriminate

The first known use of discriminate was in 1615

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More Definitions for discriminate



English Language Learners Definition of discriminate

: to unfairly treat a person or group of people differently from other people or groups
somewhat formal : to notice and understand that one thing is different from another thing : to recognize a difference between things


dis·​crim·​i·​nate | \ di-ˈskri-mə-ˌnāt How to pronounce discriminate (audio) \
discriminated; discriminating

Kids Definition of discriminate

1 : to unfairly treat a person or group differently from other people or groups It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of race.
2 : to be able to tell the difference between things He can discriminate among the birds by their calls.


dis·​crim·​i·​nate | \ dis-ˈkrim-ə-ˌnāt How to pronounce discriminate (audio) \
discriminated; discriminating

Medical Definition of discriminate

transitive verb

: to respond selectively to (a stimulus)

intransitive verb

: to respond selectively the capacity of organisms to discriminate— J. A. Swets

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intransitive verb
dis·​crim·​i·​nate | \ dis-ˈkri-mə-ˌnāt How to pronounce discriminate (audio) \
discriminated; discriminating

Legal Definition of discriminate

: to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit especially : to make a difference in treatment on a basis prohibited by law (as national origin, race, sex, religion, age, or disability) — see also bona fide occupational qualification, equal protection, reverse discrimination, suspect class, Civil Rights Act of 1964

Other Words from discriminate

discrimination \ dis-​ˌkri-​mə-​ˈnā-​shən How to pronounce discrimination (audio) \ noun

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Comments on discriminate

What made you want to look up discriminate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


likely to have or produce good results

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