obscure, dark, vague, enigmatic, cryptic, ambiguous, equivocal mean not clearly understandable. obscure implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge.
obscure poemsdark implies an imperfect or clouded revelation often with ominous or sinister suggestion.
muttered dark hints of revenge vague implies a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration.
a vague sense of obligation enigmatic stresses a puzzling, mystifying quality.
enigmatic occult writingscryptic implies a purposely concealed meaning.
cryptic hints of hidden treasureambiguous applies to language capable of more than one interpretation.
an ambiguous directive equivocal applies to language left open to differing interpretations with the intention of deceiving or evading.
moral precepts with equivocal phrasing
The Origin of Enigmatic Isn't a Mystery
An enigma is a puzzle, a riddle, a mystery. The adjective enigmatic describes what is hard to solve or figure out. An enigmatic person is someone who is a bit mysterious to others. Behind an enigmatic smile are thoughts impossible to guess. The word enigma originally referred not to people or smiles but to words, and specifically to words that formed a riddle or a complicated metaphor that tested one's alertness and cleverness. This meaning is clearly connected to the word's origin. Enigma comes from the Greek word ainissesthai, meaning "to speak in riddles."
Examples of enigmatic in a Sentence
Space seethes with an enormous enigmatic energy, and, each second, trillions of cubic light-years more of it materializes from nothingness.— Bob Berman, Astronomy, November 2007You'll recognize them by their enigmatic smile and faraway look as they jog, skate, commute, or wander the aisles of the supermarket. — Consumer Reports, December 2005Despite all that has been written—and surmised—about him, Bill Gates remains the enigmatic ringmaster of the digital circus.— J. D. Reed, People, 15 Mar. 1999
the discovery of the abandoned ship in mid ocean remains one of the most enigmatic episodes in seafaring history
the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile
Recent Examples on the WebWhile Cruise’s name wasn’t as ubiquitous as the show’s central figure, Laura Palmer, her voice and enigmatic character on the show lent an eerie musical throughline to the beloved series.
William Earl, Variety, 10 June 2022 The innovative and enigmatic Prince has been regarded as one of the greatest musicians of all time.
Okla Jones, Essence, 7 June 2022 Pavement’s third studio album, Wowee Zowee, came out the same year, with an enigmatic yet memorable Keene cover (based on a photo of two Arab women in burkas and a goat from a 1972 Life publication called The Arab World).
Joe Lynch, Billboard, 17 May 2022 The 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, only 30 miles distant, inspired a series of troubling and enigmatic works.
Laura Kingstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 10 May 2022 Payet portrays the alluring and enigmatic Isabella, the daughter of foreign diplomats, who is spending a year as an exchange student with the Landry family.
Lesley Goldberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Apr. 2022 Citigroup said an enigmatic money manager who accused the bank of owing him $11.6 billion is a fantasist and a fraud.
Washington Post, 8 Oct. 2021 But where Hofstadter is playfully enigmatic and brashly brainy, Chalmers’s writing is perspicuous and teacherly — an approach that keeps it from collapsing into recalcitrant obscurity.
Washington Post, 11 Feb. 2022 Soprano Maria Elena Altany is the Bird Mother, innocent, enigmatic, ever so slightly Masina-like.
Los Angeles Times, 2 Sep. 2021 See More
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'enigmatic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.