I've seen "determine" used for two completely different meanings:

Zeus' mood will determine tomorrow's weather. (determine = control, dictate)

The weather forecaster will determine tomorrow's weather. (determine = forecast, predict)

Are these meanings used equally often, or is one much more common than the other?

  • Why did you write is more often-used?
    – apaderno
    Aug 25, 2010 at 3:01
  • I guess that was redundant, sorry.
    – Gary
    Sep 23, 2010 at 6:41

5 Answers 5


The second sense of determine is not “to forecast or predict”, but rather to “find out by investigation, reasoning, or calculation”, sense 4 in Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster gives other examples of this sense: “<determine the answer to the problem> <determine a position at sea>”.

If we take a look at the first ten results in newspapers for determine in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, we see this sense occurs in six of them:

  1. jobs. // And so we acted robustly. And now it's time to determine whether or not this pro-growth package will actually work. // The checks will start
  2. onto Floor 10 -- - incognito, of course -- - and set out to determine whether it was truly what women want. // You know: Mirrors that make
  3. astronomy. Its original mission was to find a way for sailors at sea to determine longitude. Unlike latitude, which uses the equator as a starting position, there
  4. Sharpton stood with members of Officer Ridley's family and called for an investigation to determine whether the shooting was justified. //' Just as we are calling on the
  5. // Win or lose -- and the status of West's sore back could largely determine the outcome -- the future in New Orleans appears bright. The core players --
  6. , they lifted all sanctions. // Whether Clayton can do that hard work could determine if Flenoury can go to one of his two choice schools, Georgia or Duke
  7. worked with Kerviel was released after being questioned. Two investigating judges are trying to determine what, if anything, Kerviel's colleagues and superiors knew about his unauthorized trades
  8. because of my race? Sure. " // He doesn't think race will determine who wins the election, however. Obama said most voters will make their choice
  9. confluence within the monument boundary, so right now Dinosaur is an incredible lab to determine the impact dams have on rivers. " // Kleinschnitz, who started rowing the
  10. fight and every team gives it -- for a while. But early results can determine where a team keeps fighting all season and how confidently it battles in the close

The only uses which are not the sense meaning “to find out” are #5, #6, #8, and #10. So, from this admittedly small sample it does appear that both senses enjoy approximately equally robust usage.


The second meaning is often used (to the point of overuse) in the natural sciences: "This experiment allows us to determine the charge of the electron." Obviously no experiment will allow the experimenter to dictate the charge of the electron.

  • I personally would use the word "estimate" instead; scientific measurements are always subject to experimental uncertainty, and trying to measure the electron charge is certainly not an exception to this rule. "Determine" for me seems to be reaching for the certainty which just isn't there.
    – user730
    Aug 24, 2010 at 12:57
  • The weather forecaster can hardly be certain when determining the weather, either. Anyway, "estimate" is used slightly differently in the natural sciences; it means more often than not that the experimenter really has no clue. When a quantity is measured, it is "determined" to be within a certain margin of error from some value.
    – ptomato
    Aug 25, 2010 at 9:40

Actually, I think the word determine is being used here in both cases in the sense of "to decide" or "to resolve". The difference is: in the first case, Zeus is deciding what the weather will be (as it is under his direct control), and in the second case, the weatherman is deciding what the weather should be (a prediction).


The first example looks correct.

I don't recognise the meaning illustrated by the second example. To me (as a British English speaker), it looks like it's saying that the weather forecaster can control the weather!


The second sentence about the forecaster sounds "off" to my ears as well. If you'll excuse my lapsing into jargon for a few moments, nobody considers weather "deterministic". Certainly one can forecast, predict, or even hazard a guess, but certainly not determine something which has a "random" nature.

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