\ ˈken How to pronounce ken (audio) \

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 There are forces at work here beyond Mr. Hathy’s ken. Dan Neil, WSJ, "Why ‘Winter White’ Is the Only Car Color You Want," 7 Feb. 2020 In real life that motivation was aided by a midmorning break of free brownies, cookies and gummy worms, a staple of contemporary youth beyond the ken of Mark Twain. Steve Rubenstein,, "Fence gets a paint job in SF’s Presidio as pet cemetery gets ready to reopen," 16 Oct. 2019 Scorsese went beyond the ken of the comics and video-game generation. Armond White, National Review, "Scorsese Dissents from Comic-Book-Movie Fanboys," 9 Oct. 2019 The idea that anyone’s life might evince more complexity, or that people who are struggling with crime or a lack of jobs might envision a solution to those problems that doesn’t come in the form of a wall, seemed beyond his ken. Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker, "In New Mexico, Trump Tries to Explain What He Thinks “the Hispanics” Want," 18 Sep. 2019 In short, if Trump is playing 3D chess, Pelosi must be operating in some more sophisticated double-digit dimension that’s so beyond the ken of regular voters that none of us can possibly comprehend it. Elizabeth Spiers, The New Republic, "Beyond Pelosi," 24 July 2019 True mobility is something beyond the ken of most machines, explains Hod Lipson, a professor of engineering at Columbia University. James Vincent, The Verge, "Boston Dynamics robots are preparing to leave the lab — is the world ready?," 17 July 2019 But practical considerations aside, Slofstra has shown that there is, mathematically at least, a way of assessing a fundamental feature of the universe that might otherwise have seemed beyond our ken. Quanta Magazine, "The Universe’s Ultimate Complexity Revealed by Simple Quantum Games," 5 Mar. 2019 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

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 entry 1

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Time Traveler for ken

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

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Last Updated

16 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ken.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2020.

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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

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