dis·​crim·​i·​nate | \dis-ˈkri-mə-ˌnāt \
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, 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

The rule that peremptory challenges can’t be used to discriminate is well-established in judicial procedure. Aja Romano, Vox, "Curtis Flowers was tried 6 times for the same crime. Now the Supreme Court will hear his case.," 6 Nov. 2018 As a result, National Fair Housing Alliance and other groups filed a lawsuit against the Facebook in federal court in March, alleging that company had violated the 1968 law by permitting advertisers to discriminate. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "The US government alleges Facebook enabled housing ad discrimination," 19 Aug. 2018 Tiven fears that this case now provides a roadmap for other people and businesses who are looking to discriminate. Abby Gardner, Glamour, "What Does That Supreme Court 'Narrow Ruling' on the Same-Sex Wedding Cake Case Really Mean?," 6 June 2018 Despite this information, financial institutions across the country continue to discriminate against black and Latino borrowers. Michael Harriot, The Root, "Redlining 2.0: How Banks Block Black Homebuyers," 16 Feb. 2018 The red-shirted man marched his bigotry on by and someone else took the podium to use the same Bible verses that were used to discriminate against people of color during the Civil Rights movement. Author: Shannyn Moore | Opinion, Anchorage Daily News, "Prop 1 campaign is an infernal twist of faith," 11 Feb. 2018 The court will consider an appeal of a lower-court ruling that districts were drawn to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics. Rich Exner, cleveland.com, "Gerrymandered Pennsylvania congressional maps ruled illegal; what that could mean for Ohio - Out of Line: Impact 2017 and Beyond," 22 Jan. 2018 The documents came out as part of a lawsuit charging Harvard with systematically discriminating against Asian-Americans, in violation of civil rights law. Anemona Hartocollis, New York Times, "Harvard Rated Asian-American Applicants Lower on Personality Traits, Suit Says," 15 June 2018 But while the court sided with baker Jack Phillips on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the ruling does not indicate people have a constitutional right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples. refinery29.com, "What The Supreme Court's Decision On The Colorado Cake-Baker Case Really Means," 4 June 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

15 Nov 2018

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

: 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 \
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 \
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 \
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 \ 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).


something that serves to warn or remind

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