The Meaning of Discerning: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of discerning? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word discerning, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word discerning mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language and Dictionary, the word discerning is an adjective that describes someone that has good judgment, tastes, or understanding. This person uses their careful judgment to express opinions on matters of taste. A discerning critic with a discerning eye for art might make an excellent museum curator. A discerning reader, discerning editor, or a discerning critic of French poetry might possess keen insight and make a great university professor at a place like Princeton University. In opposition, someone who has total ignorance would not be considered to have the gift of discernment. This word has other different forms, including the adverb discerningly, the adjectives non-discerning and undiscerning, and the adverb undiscerningly. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

Many different languages content words that mean discerning. You may notice that some of these words and phrases look and sound similar to one another. This is called a cognate. Cognates are when two words look, sound, and mean a similar thing across languages. These are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin like Latin or Greek. This list of translations for the word discerning is provided by Word Sense

  • French: perspicace‎, pertinent‎
  • Italian: perspicace‎, acuto‎
  • Irish: airitheach‎, braiteach‎, céadfach‎, céadfaíoch‎, grinn‎, léirsteanach‎, mothaitheach‎
  • Swedish: insiktsfull‎, klarsynt‎
  • Portuguese: perceptivo‎, perspicaz‎
  • Greek: οξυδερκής‎
  • Finnish: havaintokykyinen‎, tarkkanäköinen‎, terävä‎
  • Spanish: perspicaz‎
  • Dutch: opmerkzaam‎
  • Romanian: perspicace‎, perceptiv‎
  • Czech: vnímavý‎ (masc.)
  • Tagalog: watasin‎
  • Russian: восприи́мчивый‎

How can the word discerning be used in a sentence?

The word discerning can be used in many different sentences and contexts to describe people who are very careful in their judgment, evaluation, or taste. In this first example, Jessica is struggling with her computer science assignment and asks the teaching assistant Morgan for help. 

Jessica: I just don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. I’ve studied the gude and debugged my code five times.

Morgan: Let me take a look…. Ah, here we go. You’ve got a stray semicolon at the end of this line. If I remove that… there you go, it works!

Jessica: Wow, that’s

 the discerning eye you’ve got!

Morgan: Trust me, I have made the same mistake many times.

Here, Jessica states that Morgan has a discerning eye for bugs in code. She is very familiar and experienced in debugging code, so she is able to carefully evaluate it for other people. Next, Jessica is talking to her sister at dinner.

Sister: Jessica, this salad is great. Is that endive I detect?

Jessica: What a discerning palate you have! Yes it is!

Sister: I knew it! I can sniff out the endive anywhere. 

Here, Jessica describes her sister’s palate as discerning. It is very sharp and keen, and can easily detect specific ingredients. The word discerning can be used to describe many different things and people depending on the context. 

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word discerning?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word discerning. THese are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are a useful concept to know because they can help you expand your vocabulary and avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the word discerning is provided by Thesaurus

  • clever
  • conversant
  • understanding
  • tuned-in
  • perceptive
  • sensible
  • lettered
  • omniscient
  • insightful
  • with-it
  • ingenious
  • sage
  • privy
  • quick-witted
  • piercing
  • critical
  • sagacious
  • plugged in
  • percipient
  • posted
  • erudite
  • intelligent
  • versed
  • sophisticated
  • well-informed
  • well-rounded
  • conscious
  • in the know
  • abreast
  • brilliant
  • acute
  • brainy
  • perspicacious
  • smart
  • clear-sighted
  • wise
  • knowing
  • sharp
  • sophic
  • bright
  • informed
  • savvy
  • appreciative
  • knowledgeable
  • discriminating
  • shrewd
  • experienced
  • learned
  • gnostic
  • cognizant
  • insighted
  • subtle
  • familiar
  • judicious
  • apprised
  • scholarly
  • prescient
  • acquainted
  • penetrating
  • astute
  • au fait
  • au courant
  • sensitive
  • alert

There are also numerous different words that mean the opposite of the word discerning. These are called antonyms, which are another quick and easy way to expand your vocabulary. This list of opposite words for the word discerning is also provided by Thesaurus

  • witless
  • unthinking
  • slow
  • senseless
  • forgetful
  • ignorant
  • heedless
  • deaf
  • dumb
  • out of it
  • spacey
  • inconversant
  • brainless
  • inane
  • imbecilic
  • unaware
  • unconcerned
  • unmindful
  • dense
  • mentally handicapped
  • mentally deficient
  • mooning
  • caught napping
  • foolish
  • unfamiliar
  • negligent
  • simpleminded
  • empty-headed
  • insensible
  • idiotic
  • unacquainted
  • in a daze
  • unconscious
  • unknowing
  • meaningless
  • stupid
  • uninstructed
  • thick-headed
  • mindless
  • doped
  • incognizant
  • not intelligent
  • pointless
  • daydreaming
  • not all there
  • deficient
  • out cold
  • unwitting
  • simple
  • oblivious
  • half-witted
  • not cognizant
  • moronic
  • nescient
  • doltish
  • unsuspecting
  • uninformed
  • out to lunch
  • unintelligent
  • unenlightened
  • deaf to
  • blind
  • inattentive
  • careless

What is the origin of the word discerning?

According to Etymonline, the word discerning is the adjective form of the verb discern. This word has been used since the late 14th century, and comes from the 13th century Old French discerner, meaning to distinguish. This comes directly from the Latin discernere meaning to separate or divide. This word is formed from the prefix dis meaning off or away, and the root cernere meaning to distinguish. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root krei- meaning to science. Related words include discerned, discriminate, distinguish, discretion, indiscreet, discrete, shed, and more.

Overall, the word discerning is an adjective that can be used to describe someone who has outstanding judgment or taste. This person might be an apprehensive friend who makes others stop and think before making rash decisions, or someone who makes a careful evaluation of a situation or person before forming an opinion.