in·​scru·​ta·​ble in-ˈskrü-tə-bəl How to pronounce inscrutable (audio)
: not readily investigated, interpreted, or understood : mysterious
an inscrutable smile
inscrutable motives
inscrutability noun
inscrutableness noun
inscrutably adverb

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Scrutinizing the inscrutable may be futile: even close scrutiny can fail to decipher it. Scrutinizing the scrutable, on the other hand, is likely to yield some understanding. All of these scrut- words have the same Latin root: scrutari, meaning “to search or examine.” While scrutiny, scrutinize, and inscrutable all prove themselves useful in everyday discourse, English speakers don’t tend to call much on scrutable, which functions as a synonym of comprehensible.

Examples of inscrutable in a Sentence

Supersymmetry is a magic mirror, and everything in what we imagine to be the real world has its ghostly, inscrutable mirror image. Ian Stewart, Prospect, September 2003
Of all the myths that have grown up around Alan Greenspan, the most powerful is the idea that he's willfully inscrutable. James Surowiecki, New Yorker, 22 Jan. 2001
That wily politicians might adopt Franklin's distinction between appearance and reality to become inscrutable confidence men did not seem to trouble him. John H. Summers, Journal of American History, December 2000
an inscrutable work of art He was a quiet, inscrutable man.
Recent Examples on the Web Some made cassette tapes of the harshest sounds that could be conjured and exchanged them by mail with cats from Japan, a mythical homeland with what seemed an infinite supply of inscrutable weirdos. Justin E. H. Smith, Harper's Magazine, 6 Sep. 2023 That’s the cost of entry for unburdening yourself via the , an adventure as experimental as its name is inscrutable. Christopher Cameron, Robb Report, 28 Oct. 2023 Tweedy vacillates between inscrutable turns of phrase and heartfelt declarations of love and solidarity, but for the most part, there’s very little sugar-coating going on here. Jonathan Cohen, Spin, 27 Sep. 2023 Fatty’s inscrutable gaze is made more so by small pieces of blue duct tape covering his right eye, like a pirate’s patch. Roberta Smith, New York Times, 17 Oct. 2023 Spinoza was infamous for his sometimes inscrutable variety of pantheism, in which God no longer sits outside Nature, paring his fingernails (James Joyce’s joke), but effectively is Nature, inextricable from it. James Wood, The New Yorker, 4 Sep. 2023 Beyoncé’s public persona is relentlessly controlled and inscrutable. Hazlitt, 19 July 2023 That becomes even clearer when Trina begins exhorting Gia with passages from the Book of Jeremiah, a well-meaning gesture that her friend accepts in polite but inscrutable silence. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2023 But as the field of paleontology shifted its focus to evolutionary questions, researchers became more interested in the abundant, familiar fossil mammals rather than the strange and sometimes inscrutable dinosaurs. Riley Black, Popular Science, 29 June 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'inscrutable.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Late Latin inscrutabilis, from Latin in- + scrutari to search — more at scrutiny

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of inscrutable was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near inscrutable

Cite this Entry

“Inscrutable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


in·​scru·​ta·​ble in-ˈskrüt-ə-bəl How to pronounce inscrutable (audio)
: not easily understood : mysterious
an inscrutable expression
inscrutably adverb

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