noun mys·tery \ ˈmis-t(ə-)rē \

Definition of mystery

plural mysteries
1 a : a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand
  • the mystery of the Trinity
b (1) : any of the 15 events (such as the Nativity, the Crucifixion, or the Assumption) serving as a subject for meditation during the saying of the rosary
(2) capitalized : a Christian sacrament; specifically : eucharist
c (1) : a secret religious rite believed (as in Eleusinian and Mithraic cults) to impart enduring bliss to the initiate
(2) : a cult devoted to such rites
2 a : something not understood or beyond understanding : enigma
  • The mystery of his disappearance has never been solved.
b obsolete : a private secret
c : the secret or specialized practices or ritual peculiar to an occupation or a body of people
  • the mysteries of the tailor's craft
d : a piece of fiction dealing usually with the solution of a mysterious crime
  • Reading mysteries was her favorite pastime.
3 : profound, inexplicable, or secretive quality or character
  • the mystery of her smile
  • the mysteries and beauties of nature

Origin and Etymology of mystery

Middle English mysterie "hidden religious truth, rite or event with religious significance, hidden meaning," borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French misterie, borrowed from Late Latin mystērium "hidden religious truth revealed by God, religious rite, Eucharist," going back to Latin (in plural mystēria), "secret religious rites, things not to be divulged," borrowed from Greek mystḗrion, plural mystḗria "religious rite to which only initiates may be admitted, secret" (in the New Testament, "religious truth revealed by God"), from mys-, base of mýstēs "person initiated (into a religious cult)" + -tērion, suffix in words denoting instruments, place and ceremonies (derivative of -tēr, agent suffix) — more at 1mystic

Synonym Discussion of mystery

mystery, problem, enigma, riddle, puzzle mean something which baffles or perplexes. mystery applies to what cannot be fully understood by reason or less strictly to whatever resists or defies explanation.
    • the mystery of the stone monoliths
problem applies to a question or difficulty calling for a solution or causing concern.
    • problems created by high technology
enigma applies to utterance or behavior that is very difficult to interpret.
    • his suicide remains an enigma
riddle suggests an enigma or problem involving paradox or apparent contradiction.
    • the riddle of the reclusive pop star
puzzle applies to an enigma or problem that challenges ingenuity for its solution.
    • the thief's motives were a puzzle for the police




Definition of mystery

plural mysteries
1 archaic : trade, craft
2 archaic : a body of persons engaged in a particular trade, business, or profession : guild

Origin and Etymology of mystery

Middle English mysterie "ministry, office, craft," borrowed from Medieval Latin misterium "duty, office, occupation, trade," in part Latinization of Anglo-French mester, mister (continental Old French mestier) "function, duty, pursuit, trade, craft, guild" (going back to Late Latin mīsterium, variant of Latin ministerium "office of a servant or attendant, duty, support"), in part borrowed directly from Late Latin — more at ministry
Note: Medieval and Late Latin misterium are conventionally explained as a conflation of ministerium and Late Latin mystērium "hidden religious truth, religious rite, Eucharist" (see 1mystery), though a Late Latin form mīsterium (assuming manuscript spellings are early) would be a natural outcome of ministerium with loss of the pre-tonic vowel and nasal consonant.

MYSTERY Defined for Kids


noun mys·tery \ ˈmi-stə-rē \

Definition of mystery for Students

plural mysteries
1 : something that has not been or cannot be explained
  • Her disappearance remains a mystery.
  • Their success is a mystery to me.
2 : a piece of fiction about solving a crime

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up mystery? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


excessive admiration or flattery

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet-pasta-spelling-help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!