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The text of Detect Magic says:

[...] you can use your action to see a faint aura around any visible creature or object in the area that bears magic [...]

This text seems a bit ambiguous.

Does it mean that I select a specific object to focus on as an action, or that a single action makes an aura visible around all visible magic-bearing objects within range?

For example, if there are 10 nearby objects I want to check for magic, do I need 1 action or 10 actions to do so?

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The Spell Does What it Says:

For the duration, you sense the presence of magic within 30 feet of you.

So you know:

"Wait, magic is nearby . . ." (Jeremy Crawford Tweet: https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/803821339412955136)

Then:

If you sense magic in this way, you can use your action to see a faint aura around any visible creature or object in the area that bears magic, and you learn its school of magic, if any.

"I'd like to use my action to see what it is I feel," which would reveal the aura of any visible magical creatures or objects in the area. This says all 10 would glow with the aura of their particular school of magic.

Regarding Sigular/Plural Wording Problem

This isn't a unique issue to Detect Magic, Detect Evil and Good has a simliar wording issue:

you know if there is an aberration, (etc.) within 30 feet of you, as well as where the creature is located

Discussed here: How many things can Detect Evil and Good detect at once?

In both cases, if it was singular was to mean one object/creature, it isn't clear WHICH one to pick, and historically both spells revealed all objects/creatures. The presence of "any" in the Detect Magic serves to drive the point home. I'm still looking to see if I can find Jeremy describing the use of the spell with multipule magical sources.

The singular 'its' refers back to the (single) aura that each specific source has: "If you sense magic, you can use your action to see a faint aura around any[thing] in the area that bears magic, and you learn [each aura's] school of magic, if any."

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel the spell is meant to reveal all the auras at once. The singular 'its' refers back to the (single) aura that each specific source has. That is , "If you sense magic, you can use your action to see a faint aura around any[thing] in the area that bears magic, and you learn [each aura's] school of magic, if any." \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Mar 12 '18 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 12 '18 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Darth, missed your comment earlier. I agree, and borrowed it. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Mar 12 '18 at 19:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm accepting this answer because I think it is the most consistent with RAW. As further evidence, we have the text of Detect Thoughts, which is a similar sort of spell (i.e. concentration for basic function + action to "dig deeper"), but says (emphasis mine) "... you can focus your mind on any one creature ...". This wording clearly specifies that you are selecting a target, in contrast to the wording used in Detect Magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Mar 12 '18 at 22:55
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One aura per action

The text continues:

and you learn its school of magic, if any. (emphasis mine)

This clearly refers to one thing, otherwise it would say "their schools". You can analyze one aura with one action.

Clarification about auras

Discussion in the comments has revealed, that part of the confusion stems from not understanding what an aura is and when do you see it. In my reading it is purely flavor text to rationalize the caster being able to infer school of magic just by looking and not a complicated concept in the background. Seeing the aura is merely a part of the action of investigating a magical presence. Passively you merely "sense magic" with a nondescript (sixth) sense and only start to see auras when you focus your attention.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess this also means that I have to guess which object within range is the magical one, using my action on each object until I find the one that is magical? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Mar 12 '18 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the wording implies that the auras are different per school of magic. Thus you would be able to see an aura around all magic items in vision, and can determine the school of magic by the different auras. \$\endgroup\$ – David the Paladin Mar 12 '18 at 16:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson As you sense the presence of magic while under the effect of detect magic you do not have to guess whether an item is magical or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Mar 12 '18 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ So even without using an action, I can tell which specific visible objects within 30 feet bear magic (as opposed to simply knowing that there is at least one magical object within 30 feet), and the action is simply for determining the school of magic on an object? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Mar 12 '18 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, are you saying you see all Auras, but need to use an action to learn its school of magic? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 12 '18 at 16:45

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