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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. 2015.
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Examples from the web for discern
  • Geographers use maps as tools to discern patterns and to understand why things are where they are.
  • If thou mayst discern by that which is left of him what he is, fetch me to the sight of him.
  • We have a lot of rain ahead, depending on which direction it's moving, which I have been unable to discern so far.
  • But what is important is we should have enough intelligence to discern between truth and a lie.
  • Only recently have paleontologists been able to discern the pattern of their evolution.
  • The reasons are not hard to discern.
  • As for rich embroidery, it is lost and not discerned.
  • Few could discern differences.
  • The underlying motives for the changes are so far hard to discern.
  • The take-home message, however, is a bit tough to discern at this point.
British Dictionary definitions for discern


(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 discern

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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