[dih-sur-ning, -zur-]


showing good or outstanding judgment and understanding: a discerning critic of French poetry.

Origin of discerning

First recorded in 1600–10; discern + -ing2
Related formsdis·cern·ing·ly, adverbnon·dis·cern·ing, adjectiveun·dis·cern·ing, adjectiveun·dis·cern·ing·ly, adverb

Synonyms for discerning


[dih-surn, -zurn]

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 formsdis·cern·er, nounpre·dis·cern, verb (used with object)un·dis·cerned, adjective

Synonyms for discern

1. discover, descry, espy. See notice. 2, 3. differentiate, judge.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for discerning

Contemporary Examples of discerning

Historical Examples of discerning

  • “You are as discerning as ever,” murmured the land baron––for it was Edward Mauville.

    The Strollers

    Frederic S. Isham

  • My son-in-law, Lawrence Hardin, is possessed of a discerning eye.


    Effie Afton

  • Where sounds are lacking, of what use is the faculty of discerning them?

  • To her discerning eye his manner of action conveyed no other impression.

    The Loyalist

    James Francis Barrett

  • To Christianity, discerning the end through the means, it is Redemption.

British Dictionary definitions for discerning



having or showing good taste or judgment; discriminating
Derived Formsdiscerningly, adverb



(tr) to recognize or perceive clearly
to recognize or perceive (differences)
Derived Formsdiscerner, 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

Word Origin and History for discerning

"action of perceiving," late 14c., verbal noun from discern. As a present participle adjective, attested from c.1600.



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