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[dih-surn, -zurn] /dɪˈsɜrn, -ˈzɜrn/
verb (used with object)
to perceive by the sight or some other sense or by the intellect; see, recognize, or apprehend:
They discerned a sail on the horizon.
to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate:
He is incapable of discerning right from wrong.
verb (used without object)
to distinguish or discriminate.
Origin of discern
1300-50; Middle English (< Old French) < Latin discernere to separate, equivalent to dis- dis-1 + cernere to separate
Related forms
discerner, noun
prediscern, verb (used with object)
undiscerned, adjective
1. discover, descry, espy. See notice. 2, 3. differentiate, judge. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for discerner
Historical Examples
  • In it is a cave where dwells a saint who is called ‘The discerner.’

  • He was a lover of truth, and believed himself to be a discerner of it.

    A Spirit in Prison Robert Hichens
  • It was an acknowledged sign of a true prophet to be a discerner of hearts.

    The Parables of Our Lord William Arnot
  • It is described as "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

  • It is the true "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

    Practical Religion

    John Charles Ryle
  • He, however, who is obtrusive with his eyes as a discerner, how can he ever see more of anything than its foreground!

    Thus Spake Zarathustra Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Had Hannah been a discerner of spirits to recognize the soul in that miserable little baby-body!


    Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth
  • The will, which is illegitimately stretched to include feeling, is treated as the creator as well as the discerner of reality.

    Outspoken Essays William Ralph Inge
  • He was a man that God endowed with a clear and wonderful depth, a discerner of others' spirits, and very much a master of his own.

    George Fox George Fox
  • This clergyman, whose name the Editor is not at liberty to mention, is known to many to be a discerner of spirits.

British Dictionary definitions for discerner


(transitive) to recognize or perceive clearly
to recognize or perceive (differences)
Derived Forms
discerner, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Old French discerner, from Latin discernere to divide, from dis-1 (apart) + cernere to separate
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for discerner



late 14c., from Old French discerner (13c.) "distinguish (between), separate" (by sifting), and directly from Latin discernere "to separate, set apart, divide, distribute; distinguish, perceive," from dis- "off, away" (see dis-) + cernere "distinguish, separate, sift" (see crisis). Related: Discerned; discerning.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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