dis·​crim·​i·​nate | \ di-ˈskri-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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for discriminate


difference, differentiate, discern, distinguish, secern, separate


confuse, mistake, mix (up)

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C., Holocaust survivors are typically recognized as anyone, Jewish or non-Jewish, who was persecuted, displaced or discriminated against by the Nazis or their allies. Cody Boteler, baltimoresun.com, "90-year-old Holocaust survivor stresses importance of education to Catonsville Middle students," 11 June 2018 Cash-free stores are generating a backlash among some activists and liberal-leaning policymakers who say the practice discriminates against people like Figueroa, who either lack bank accounts or rely on cash for many transactions. Alexandra Olson, The Seattle Times, "As cashless stores grow, so does the backlash," 14 Apr. 2019 So plans that discriminate against people with preexisting conditions or that offer skimpier benefits — practices Obamacare tried to end — could suddenly benefit from its generous subsidies. Dylan Scott, Vox, "We have a new worst-case scenario for Obamacare," 3 Dec. 2018 Indeed, Twitter founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey has met privately with Trump aides and powerful Fox News personalities to assuage their fears that conservatives are being discriminated against on his platform. Bijan Stephen, The Verge, "Fox News wants everyone else to tell Twitter how mad it is at Twitter," 15 Nov. 2018 Instead of discriminating against high-performing minorities, education advocates should focus on expanding the availability of quality education to all poor children. WSJ, "Spread Opportunity to Help Poor Students Rise," 28 Dec. 2018 Damore and David Gudeman, another former employee let go for similar reasons, accused Google of discriminating against white men and conservatives. Eric Bangeman, Ars Technica, "Talk amongst yourselves: 2018’s most-commented stories on Ars," 24 Dec. 2018 In 2016, a ProPublica investigation revealed that anyone advertising housing could discriminate on the basis of race, and a year later, a followup investigation found that Facebook hadn’t solved the problem. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "The US government alleges Facebook enabled housing ad discrimination," 19 Aug. 2018 Video provided by Shayne Holland IMPD is conducting an internal investigation to review the actions of an off-duty police officer accused of discriminating against a black man at an apartment complex swimming pool. Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star, "IMPD investigating officer involved in alleged profiling incident at swimming pool," 13 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about discriminate

Listen to Our Podcast about discriminate

Statistics for discriminate

Last Updated

14 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for discriminate

The first known use of discriminate was in 1615

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more


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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


behavior toward others

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!