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 case inspired similar litigation on behalf of female, Native American and Latino farmers who contended that the department had also discriminated against them. Daniel E. Slotnik, New York Times, "Ralph Paige, Champion of Black Farmers, Dies at 74," 6 July 2018 The Justice Department is currently investigating whether Harvard has discriminated against Asian-American applicants in its admissions process. Hanna Howard, Teen Vogue, "Affirmative Action Guidelines Rescinded by Trump Administration," 3 July 2018 Sixty-six percent of black respondents in that study agreed that taxi drivers discriminate based on race, with 47 percent of white people agreeing. Josh Magness, miamiherald, "Black passengers wait longer for Ubers, taxis — and get more cancellations, study finds," 28 June 2018 The facilities fought back in court — successfully in most cases — by arguing that the cities were discriminating based on their viewpoints. Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, "Supreme Court rules against California law targeting anti-abortion pregnancy centers," 26 June 2018 Even if Harvard does not actually discriminate against Asian-Americans, its insistence on preserving hereditary preferences undermines its case. The Economist, "A lawsuit reveals how peculiar Harvard’s definition of merit is," 21 June 2018 The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, claims the question intentionally discriminates against immigrants and will increase fear in their communities. Larry Neumeister, Sun-Sentinel.com, "ACLU sues over plans for citizenship question on 2020 census," 6 June 2018 At a news conference, Democrats said Trump’s pick of Kavanaugh is his latest attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act and bring America back to the days when insurers could discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions. Nicole Gaudiano, USA TODAY, "Red-state Democrats could put party in bind over Brett Kavanaugh," 12 July 2018 Contacted by phone Wednesday, Smitley strongly denied discriminating against McGuffin. Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star, "Judge: Landlord must pay $220,000 for discriminating against ill tenant," 11 July 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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Last Updated

20 Sep 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).


the setting in which something occurs

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