[ dih-surn, -zurn ]
/ dɪˈsɜrn, -ˈzɜrn /
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See synonyms for: discern / discerned / discerning on Thesaurus.com

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.
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Origin of discern

First recorded in 1300–50; Middle English (from Old French ), from Latin discernere “to separate,” equivalent to dis- dis-1 + cernere “to separate”

synonym study for discern

1. See notice.


dis·cern·er, nounpre·dis·cern, verb (used with object)un·dis·cerned, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does discern mean?

Discern means to recognize small details, accurately tell the difference between similar things, and make intelligent judgements by using such observations.

The ability to do this or the process of doing it is called discernment, as in Only through careful discernment can you tell a genuine artifact from the work of a counterfeiter. 

Things that can be identified or distinguished in such a way can be described as discernible. The adjective discerning can be used to describe someone who has the ability to discern or to describe such an ability, as in Most chefs have a very discerning palate. A close synonym is discriminating.

The verb discriminate can be used to mean the same thing as discern (discriminate also commonly means to treat in a prejudicial way, which is not one of the senses of discern).

Example: These two scents may smell identical to the average person, but an experienced perfumer can discern the difference between them.

Where does discern come from?

The first records of the word discern come from the 1300s. It derives from the Latin term discernere, meaning “to separate” or “to divide,” from dis-, meaning “apart,” and cernere, “to separate.”

To discern is to tell things apart—to separate them, even when they appear to be very similar. People who are able to discern are able to make keen observations about things. A person with a sophisticated palate may be able to discern flavors that others cannot. This ability is often associated with wisdom and experience. Discerning also often involves making a judgment, especially about things that aren’t obvious. For example, it takes discernment to accurately judge someone’s character.

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How is discern used in real life?

Discern is a somewhat formal word and is typically used in serious contexts.



Try using discern!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of discern

A. differentiate
B. distinguish
C. discriminate
D. ignore

How to use discern in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for discern

/ (dɪˈsɜːn) /

(tr) to recognize or perceive clearly
to recognize or perceive (differences)

Derived forms of discern

discerner, noun

Word Origin for discern

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