\ 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 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,, "Wallace Roney, jazz trumpet virtuoso," 2 Apr. 2020 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, "Wallace Roney, Jazz Trumpet Virtuoso, Is Dead at 59," 31 Mar. 2020 The Coming De-Urbanization of America Yesterday ... Read More President Trump should not spit-ball on live television, especially on topics that are outside his ken. Scott Lincicome, National Review, "On ‘Supply-Chain Repatriation,’ It’s Buyer (and Nation) Beware," 28 Apr. 2020 So there was a spot, the middle square of 24A, that was beyond my ken. Caitlin Lovinger, New York Times, "A Warm Welcome," 15 Mar. 2020 For years, the two of us have been charting a bloody course across the briny blue, looting every schooner fool enough to drift into our ken. Simon Rich, The New Yorker, "Learning the Ropes," 28 Feb. 2020 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

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

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Cite this Entry

“Ken.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Apr. 2021.

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