I'm reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. At the end of chapter 29, she writes "The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow."

At first I assumed it meant that the Lady Catherine De Bourgh would be so certain of what she expected the weather that it was as though she decided it rather than predicted. Then I started wondering if meaning of determine has shifted over the years, and it had simply meant predicted at the time.

In the early 19th century when Austen was writing, was the meaning of "determine" the same as it is today?

  • 3
    You don't show any evidence of research. CDO defines determine: verb [T often passive] to ​control or ​influence something ​directly, or to ​decide what will ​happen. It adds another sense: to ​discover the ​facts or ​truth about something. So the 'control' flavour is not mandatory. However, whether or not the sense of 'decide' they use is the 'incontrovertibly' one, they naughtily fail to mention. Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 17:33

3 Answers 3


Interesting question -- I loved Pride and Prejudice when I read it many years ago (and watch the BBC production from time to time).

I actually would think that your initial instinct in this case is on the right track. Remembering the pompous, overbearing, and narcissistic character of Lady Catherine, I'd say that Austen may be sardonically using "determine" there to stress that Lady Catherine believes she's in control of a great deal more in the world than Mr. Collins and her opulent quarters at Rosings Park.

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    +1 Precisely: ". . . whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative a tone as marked her self-importance, and brought Mr. Wickham immediately to Elizabeth's mind; and from the observation of the day altogether, she believed Lady Catherine to be exactly what he had represented." (viz., "that her manners were dictatorial and insolent.") Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 17:26

The meaning denoted by 'determine' in your quote from Pride and Prejudice is this one, generally:

II. To bring to an end a dispute, controversy, or doubtful matter; to conclude, settle, decide, fix.

The specific sense is

  1. a. trans. To settle or decide (a dispute, question, matter in debate), as a judge or arbiter.

["determine, v.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/51244 (accessed November 20, 2015).]

In this sense, "the party" will consider the question of tomorrow's weather (as parties are wont to do), and Lady Catherine will settle the matter.

This use of 'determine' is still common today.

  • While I agree that determine has a meaning that is relevant here, I don't see how it can be that of judging. The word can also mean figure out, see my answer.
    – terdon
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 23:10
  • @terdon, the sense is more at 'settle' or 'decide' the question than 'judge', as shown in my answer.
    – JEL
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 0:38

It is a meaning of the word still in use today, though perhaps less so than it was (definition from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition, courtesy of Wordnik):

transitive v. To establish or ascertain definitely, as after consideration, investigation, or calculation. See Synonyms at discover.

The word, in this context, would be synonymous to figure out or discover. It is also very likely that Austen is playing with the ambiguity to imbue the character with the sort of self importance mentioned by Languagemaven, but the word does indeed carry this meaning today as it did then.

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