1 of 2


: the range of perception, understanding, or knowledge
abstract words that are beyond the ken of young childrenLois M. Rettie
: the range of vision
: sight, view
'tis double death to drown in ken of shoreWilliam Shakespeare


2 of 2


kenned; kenning

transitive verb

archaic : see
chiefly dialectal : recognize
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
It's pronounced ken-view. Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN, 29 Sep. 2022 Horrifying but not outside my ken of credulity. Los Angeles Times, 12 Apr. 2021 What had been beyond the ken of my comprehension even into adolescence was a nuisance for this individual in their elementary school years. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 30 June 2010 For that reason, or for reasons beyond the ken of a public-high-school boy from Kansas City, Missouri, about all a male needed in those days in order to be brought along to a débutante party by some legitimate invitee was a tuxedo and a pulse. The New Yorker, 21 Mar. 2022 How pigeons get enough calories to stay alive and healthy until spring is beyond my ken. John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, 27 Feb. 2022 Many of the items had been disabled by departing U.S. troops or are beyond the ken of Taliban fighters to operate. Tribune News Service, Arkansas Online, 5 Sep. 2021 His nuanced understanding of Davis’s playing — its harmonic and rhythmic wirings as well as its smoldering tone — was only part of a vast musical ken. Giovanni Russonello, New York Times, 31 Mar. 2020 Unscathed (for reasons beyond my ken) include baptisia, clematis recta, and of course the sturdy-as-stone conifers. Bonnie Blodgett, Twin Cities, 17 June 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ken.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



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 entry 1

First Known Use


1590, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


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

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

Dictionary Entries Near ken

Cite this Entry

“Ken.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
kenned; kenning
chiefly Scottish


2 of 2 noun
: range of vision : sight
: range of understanding
miracles beyond human ken

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