Definition of detect in US English:



[with object]
  • 1Discover or identify the presence or existence of.

    ‘cancer may soon be detected in its earliest stages’
    • ‘The software scans the video pictures and detects road signs by recognising their symmetrical shapes: rectangles, diamonds, octagons or circles.’
    • ‘Rushbrook is no less bearish than Burns, saying he could detect no bright spots, either in terms of sectors or geography.’
    • ‘As the produce of the land was the ultimate source of nearly all raw material and energy inputs, Landers detects a distinctive pattern in the organisation of production.’
    • ‘MODIS detects hot spots in the landscape and assigns whether there is high, medium or low likelihood that a fire is present.’
    • ‘It is also important to know how each animal detects human presence since it will help one go as close as possible to it undetected.’
    • ‘Presumably the rabbit antiserum that played a key role in initially isolating HIV and then serving as the basis for a diagnostic test for detecting the disease was vegan rabbit antiserum.’
    • ‘If he detects the presence of drugs on someone we could then go ahead and search them.’
    • ‘A Predator senses guard dogs and detects minefields in a swamp, or releases sample Hellfire munitions that neutralize their targets.’
    • ‘The men who manned the security machines did not notice Atta, or detect the knives that his team smuggled on to the plane.’
    • ‘A pulse-Doppler radar operator detects an aircraft by noting a difference in the frequency of the transmitted and reflected energy.’
    • ‘The presence of nitrite is detected by a colour change to pink upon addition of specific reagents that can be seen visually.’
    • ‘Limitations of current diagnostic techniques in detecting infection at an early stage have prompted the development of new diagnostic tools.’
    • ‘In truth, she had thought that they would have detected each other's presence sooner.’
    • ‘Diagnostic kits for detecting hepatitis B alone are exempt from excise duty.’
    • ‘As soon as the immune system detects the presence of a pathogen it mounts a response to kill it, which is highly successful in most cases in healthy people.’
    • ‘When his presence was detected the music paused and the gathering cheered his arrival.’
    • ‘Some of the increase can be traced to better ways of recognising cancer and detecting cancer in an early stage.’
    • ‘You don't have a philosopher's sense that detects cheesy things in writing.’
    • ‘If a person under hypnosis is told that a glass of plain water is sweet, then he will really detect a sweet taste in the water.’
    • ‘The new diagnostic kits can detect the virus or antibodies for the virus in nasal or throat secretions and serum.’
    1. 1.1 Discern (something intangible or barely perceptible)
      ‘Paul detected a faint note of weariness in his father's voice’
      • ‘A threshold is the minimum level at which a compound can be detected by smell or taste.’
      • ‘Emergency workers initially thought Josie was also dead, but then detected a faint pulse.’
      • ‘The male equine raised his head, his thin ears rotated slowly, detecting a faint sound.’
      • ‘Mr Hutchence says staff first detected a faint smell the day before - but on Wednesday it was much stronger.’
      • ‘I could barely detect the horseradish in the creamy bed of mashed potato, a more generous grating would have perked it up.’
      • ‘The human nose can distinguish thousands of smells by detecting small quantities of chemicals.’
      • ‘She fancied for a moment that she could detect the faint rusty smell of hot steel.’
      • ‘When the rescuers returned, the sniffer dog whined, indicating it detected the smell of a corpse.’
      • ‘For all the laughs their comedies still elicit, you can't help but detect a note of regret in their remarks.’
      • ‘But the false note that can be detected in this episode has been sounding throughout the book, albeit more quietly.’
      • ‘A distinctive sweet smell was also detected on the sea air in Rimini.’
      • ‘We also detected the scent of the tiger, after hints from our local guide.’
      • ‘He had just got done taking a shower but I could still detect the faint smell of bleach.’
      • ‘And, at the very end I swear I could detect the faint beginnings of a smile in his voice.’
      • ‘You can almost hear the organ playing devotional music in the background, and detect the faintest whiff of incense on the breeze.’
      • ‘Inside, the office seemed dead, and Prudence detected a faint smell of alcohol.’
      • ‘I may be completely wrong, but I detect a faint whiff of arrogance and even racism in the Economist article.’
      • ‘Despite the dim lighting in the engine room, he detected a faint shadow on the far wall.’
      • ‘Bhogji village in Osmanabad district could be detected by the smells that emanated from it.’
      notice, become aware of, perceive, note, discern, make out, observe, spot, become conscious of, recognize, distinguish, mark, remark, identify, diagnose
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Discover or investigate (a crime or its perpetrators)
      ‘the public can help the police to detect crime’
      • ‘It is far more accurate to say that we detect offences that have already been committed.’
      • ‘Keys allow for ongoing access and the ability to return files, so it's hard to detect theft.’
      • ‘His misconduct was detected because access to those sites was blocked.’
      • ‘He said that, over the course of the next few weeks, community officers would be in plain clothes on and off the buses, identifying offenders and deterring and detecting offences.’
      • ‘India's record is still a good one, and the thieves in Pune were detected and caught.’
      • ‘Since their personalities mesh with those of their victims, it takes spiritual discernment to detect them.’
      • ‘It may also be considered unjust to punish an employee for the breach of some regulation as he may not have had the means of detecting the breach or of preventing it.’
      • ‘The scam was detected when a ChoicePoint employee noticed a suspicious application to open a customer account.’
      • ‘Even the fact that there is the ability to detect murder before it is committed is a complex issue.’
      • ‘If the funding were available we could widen its use and make a real impact in detecting more crimes.’
      • ‘As a commercial credit auditor, her job was to detect fraud in receivables accounting.’
      • ‘High Street betting shops do not identify gamblers which can make detecting fraud, and prosecuting fraudsters, more difficult.’
      • ‘We want to prevent the crimes and detect those that have already been committed.’
      • ‘The offences were detected during inspections of log books by fisheries officers.’
      • ‘The figures reveal Malmesbury police have succeeded in their crack-down on crime by detecting more offences than any other police area in Wiltshire.’
      • ‘Online insurer Esure is to use technology that recognises when a speaker is under stress in a bid to detect fraud.’
      • ‘They will also invest more than £30m in new technology to help detect and prevent crime.’
      • ‘He had great praise for Portlaoise Business Watch and said the group had a strong record in detecting and preventing crime in local shops.’
      • ‘To detect the fraud however one must study the picture more closely.’
      • ‘The system had to be radically reformed to detect murder, medical error and neglect.’
      discover, uncover, find, find out, turn up, unearth, dig up, dredge up, root out, hunt out, nose out, ferret out, expose, reveal, bring to light, bring into the open
      solve, clear up, get to the bottom of, find the perpetrator of, find the person behind
      catch, hunt down, find, expose, reveal, unmask, smoke out, ferret out, track down, apprehend, arrest
      View synonyms


Late Middle English: from Latin detect- ‘uncovered’, from the verb detegere, from de- (expressing reversal) + tegere ‘to cover’. The original senses were ‘uncover, expose’ and ‘give someone away’, later ‘expose the real or hidden nature of’; hence the current (partly influenced by detective).