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, 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

The Trump administration says the government is unfairly subsidizing Chinese companies and discriminating against foreign rivals. Marley Jay, The Seattle Times, "Wall Street ends higher with help from tech and health care," 12 Dec. 2018 The study determined that the lasting effects of domestication on these animals may have given them the ability to not only discriminate between emotions on non-goat faces, but also to prefer happy faces. Cady Drell, Marie Claire, "Goats Are the Only Men Allowed to Tell Me to Smile," 30 Nov. 2018 This may seem like a new development, but the Google walkout is steeped in a long history — both of women being minimized and discriminated against in tech, and of women asserting their power to force change. Marie Hicks, The Verge, "The long history behind the Google Walkout," 9 Nov. 2018 The Obama-era rules banned broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against particular internet content. Klint Finley, WIRED, "FCC Retracts a Plan to Discourage Consumer Complaints," 11 July 2018 That meant companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T could not block, slow down, charge higher fees or otherwise discriminate against specific websites, users, content providers or communication platforms. Cathy Cunningham, chicagotribune.com, "Can net neutrality be saved in Illinois?," 5 July 2018 Eventually, the Court of Final Appeal ruled unanimously in the plaintiff's favor on grounds that the refusal indirectly discriminated against her based on sexuality. Henry Youtt, Billboard, "Hong Kong Grants Same-Sex Couples Equal Visa Rights," 5 July 2018 Those comments pushed the court toward ruling that the Commission had acted unconstitutionally and discriminated against Masterpiece Cakeshop, a bakery that had refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Anne Branigin, The Root, "Sonia Sotomayor Reads the Supreme Court's Travel Ban Decision for Filth," 26 June 2018 Someone in a thin body—particularly a woman—may be teased, bullied, or discriminated against for not possessing a certain body type historically associated with femininity and the male gaze. Melissa A. Fabello, SELF, "Skinny Shaming Is Not the Same as Fat Phobia," 26 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

11 Jan 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

: 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).


to gather or build up little by little

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