\ˈken \

Definition of ken 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the range of perception, understanding, or knowledge abstract words that are beyond the ken of young children— Lois M. Rettie

2a : the range of vision

b : sight, view 'tis double death to drown in ken of shore— William Shakespeare


kenned; kenning

Definition of ken (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 archaic : see

2 chiefly dialectal : recognize

3 chiefly Scotland : know

intransitive verb

chiefly Scotland : know

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Understanding Ken


Ken appeared on the English horizon in the 16th century as a term of measurement of the distance bounding the range of ordinary vision at sea—about 20 miles. British author John Lyly used that sense in 1580 when he wrote, "They are safely come within a ken of Dover." Other 16th-century writers used ken to mean "range of vision" ("Out of ken we were ere the Countesse came from the feast." — Thomas Nashe) or "sight" ("'Tis double death to drown in ken of shore." — Shakespeare). Today, however, ken rarely suggests literal sight. Rather, ken nowadays almost always implies a range of perception, understanding, or knowledge.

Examples of ken in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Photo: ken blaze/Reuters The Nets asked Harris to emulate Kyle Korver. Ben Cohen, WSJ, "The Face of the Changing NBA Is a Guy Named Joe," 3 Dec. 2018 An honest broker trapped in a wicked game, Marshall was in the end whipsawed by cultural and political forces beyond his ken. James D. Hornfischer, WSJ, "‘The China Mission’ Review: The Man Who ‘Lost’ China," 3 May 2018 Mr Trump did not for the most part infect Republicans with new beliefs from beyond their ken. The Economist, "The president’s takeover of his party is near complete," 19 Apr. 2018 Through your sufferings, or someone that’s close to [sic] ken. Tyler Huckabee, Washington Post, "Hip-hop is having a God moment. Kendrick Lamar is a big part of it.," 28 Jan. 2018 That may not really be Scott’s ken, but there’s something insistent about All the Money in the World’s story that isn’t quite adequately addressed. Richard Lawson, HWD, "All the Money in the World," 19 Dec. 2017 Only Madame Merle is a Jamesian creation beyond Eliot’s ken. Henry James, New York Times, "Letters to the Editor," 8 Dec. 2017 Unscathed (for reasons beyond my ken) include baptisia, clematis recta, and of course the sturdy-as-stone conifers. Bonnie Blodgett, Twin Cities, "Blundering Gardener: This week’s worry? Bugs and blight," 17 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ken.' 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 ken


1590, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


13th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for ken


Middle English kennen, from Old English cennan to make known & Old Norse kenna to perceive; both akin to Old English can know — more at can

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Dictionary Entries near ken






Kenai Peninsula


Statistics for ken

Last Updated

7 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ken

The first known use of ken was in the 13th century

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More from Merriam-Webster on ken

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ken

Spanish Central: Translation of ken

Nglish: Translation of ken for Spanish Speakers

Comments on ken

What made you want to look up ken? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the figure or shape of a crescent moon

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