dis·​crim·​i·​na·​tion di-ˌskri-mə-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce discrimination (audio)
: prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment
racial discrimination
: the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually
: the quality or power of finely distinguishing
the film viewed by those with discrimination
: the act of making or perceiving a difference : the act of discriminating
a bloodhound's scent discrimination
psychology : the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently
discriminational adjective

Did you know?

Discriminating Among Meanings of Discrimination

Discrimination has senses with neutral, positive, and negative connotations. On the one hand, it can refer to "the act (or power) of distinguishing" or to "good taste, refinement." These meanings, sometimes reinforced with modifiers (as in a fine or a nice discrimination), stress an ability to perceive differences as an index of unusual intelligence. On the other hand, when the perception of difference is marked by invidious distinction or hostility, the word (often followed by against) takes on very negative overtones, as in the senses "act of discriminating categorically rather than individually" (discrimination against women, age discrimination) and "a prejudiced outlook or course of action" (racial discrimination). The original, neutral sense of discrimination, "the act of distinguishing," came into English by the early 17th century, followed by the positive one associated with superior discernment in the 18th century. Discrimination in the "prejudice" sense has been in use since the early 19th century, almost 200 years ago.

Choose the Right Synonym for discrimination

discernment, discrimination, perception, penetration, insight, acumen mean a power to see what is not evident to the average mind.

discernment stresses accuracy (as in reading character or motives or appreciating art).

the discernment to know true friends

discrimination stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent.

the discrimination that develops through listening to a lot of great music

perception implies quick and often sympathetic discernment (as of shades of feeling).

a novelist of keen perception into human motives

penetration implies a searching mind that goes beyond what is obvious or superficial.

lacks the penetration to see the scorn beneath their friendly smiles

insight suggests depth of discernment coupled with understanding sympathy.

a documentary providing insight into the plight of the homeless

acumen implies characteristic penetration combined with keen practical judgment.

a director of reliable box-office acumen

Example Sentences

The law prohibits discrimination in hiring. He sued the company for age discrimination. the animal's impressive scent discrimination
Recent Examples on the Web But Weiser and states backing Colorado warn that a decision in support of Smith would open the door to more discrimination. Melissa Quinn, CBS News, 4 Dec. 2022 In the case of housing discrimination, the task force estimates compensation of around $569 billion, with $223,200 per person. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, 2 Dec. 2022 Awareness movements meant to call out discrimination give him hope, too: For example, Latina Equal Pay Day, sponsored by a consortium of advocacy groups to close the gender and racial pay gap, is Thursday. Tammy La Gorce, New York Times, 2 Dec. 2022 Has there been anything more damaging to black economic achievement than the myth that black skill acquisition won’t pay off in the marketplace because of discrimination? WSJ, 2 Dec. 2022 Everett is awash in scandals with three female school administrators who succeeded Foresteire each having filed discrimination complaints against Mayor Carlo DeMaria, the city, and the schools. Stephanie Ebbert, BostonGlobe.com, 2 Dec. 2022 The federal discrimination case was officially dismissed Nov. 11, according to public records. Tim Carman, Washington Post, 1 Dec. 2022 Iran’s actions as permissible under the framework of women’s rights, and gives a pass to a country where discrimination exists by design. Annalisa Merelli, Quartz, 30 Nov. 2022 The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination. Arkansas Online, 29 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'discrimination.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


see discriminate

First Known Use

1621, in the meaning defined at sense 3a

Time Traveler
The first known use of discrimination was in 1621

Dictionary Entries Near discrimination

Cite this Entry

“Discrimination.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discrimination. Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



dis·​crim·​i·​na·​tion dis-ˌkrim-ə-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce discrimination (audio)
: the act of perceiving distinctions
: the ability to make fine distinctions
: the treating of some people better than others without any fair or proper reason
laws to end racial discrimination
-shnəl How to pronounce discrimination (audio)

Medical Definition



dis·​crim·​i·​na·​tion dis-ˌkrim-ə-ˈnā-shən How to pronounce discrimination (audio)
: the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently : differentiation
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
Name That Thing

You know what it looks like… but what is it called?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.