For example, you see a small part of a curtain picture, but from this small part you are able to recognize that this is a "curtain".

Or if your sight is hazy, and you can recognize an object because of its general outline.

My thoughts were on "make out", "discern", or "differentiate". But the last 2 sound more like "recognize from a group of similar looking objects".

So, what's the best word for above case?

1 Answer 1


You could make out that it was a curtain.

That suggests that enough of the thing's appearance was discernible to enable you to determine what it was.

make out would be synonymous with discern there.

But differentiate refers to the ability to distinguish one thing from another.

We were able to differentiate the good turbine blades from the cracked ones using ultrasound.

  • So, let's say you have a clothing in your face, limiting your vision, and you could only see a speck of ceiling, would it be more like "I could make out a speck of ceiling" or "I discerned a speck of ceiling"? Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 17:11
  • There we are getting into the question of "register". "A speck of ceiling" is a kind of exaggeration, a figure of speech, since a "speck" is only about the size of a poppy seed. Given the conversational nature of such exaggerations, I would choose make out there because it is conversational, whereas discern could be used in formal contexts.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 17:35

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