neb·​u·​lous | \ ˈne-byə-ləs How to pronounce nebulous (audio) \

Definition of nebulous

1 : of, relating to, or resembling a nebula : nebular
2 : indistinct, vague … this nebulous thing called jazz.— Josef Woodard … the nebulous region between mere suspicion and probable cause— W. R. LaFave & J. H. Israel The plan is too nebulous.

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Other Words from nebulous

nebulously adverb
nebulousness noun

Did You Know?

Nebulous comes from the Latin word nebulosus, meaning "misty," which in turn comes from nebula, meaning "mist," "fog," or "cloud." In the 18th century, English speakers borrowed "nebula" and gave it a somewhat more specific meaning than the Latin version. In English, "nebula" refers to a cloud of gas or dust in deep space, or in less technical contexts, simply to a galaxy. "Nebulous" itself, when it doesn't have interstellar implications, usually means "cloudy" or "foggy" in a figurative sense. One's memory of a long-past event, for example, will often be nebulous; a teenager might give a nebulous recounting of an evening's events upon coming home; or a politician might make a campaign promise but give only a nebulous description of how he or she would fulfill it.

Examples of nebulous in a Sentence

These philosophical concepts can be nebulous. made nebulous references to some major changes the future may hold
Recent Examples on the Web The reason: The best candidates are failing the Hall’s character test, signaling a new era in how voters treat the most nebulous—and controversial—barrier to entry for baseball’s highest honor. Jared Diamond, WSJ, "Baseball’s Hall of Fame Vote Becomes a Test of ‘Character Clause’," 24 Jan. 2021 Essential workers are also a nebulous category, and again, states get to set their own definitions. Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, "America Is About to Enter Vaccine Purgatory," 11 Dec. 2020 The word had recently been adopted by a nebulous movement that called for bringing about such a conflict through acts of random violence, articulated in the kidding-but-not-kidding language and meme vocabulary of message-board trolls. New York Times, "How Armed Protests Are Creating a New Kind of Politics," 26 Jan. 2021 One thing that is still a little bit nebulous is figuring out how tours are going to work. Steve Knopper, Billboard, "Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: 'Here's Another Complication You Didn't Anticipate'," 20 Jan. 2021 The debate over whether the disk’s iconography evokes the Bronze or Iron Age is more nebulous. New York Times, "A Bitter Archaeological Feud Over an Ancient Vision of the Cosmos," 19 Jan. 2021 Oregon legislative leaders are heading into the five-month session that begins next week with logistical challenges unimaginable a year ago and a more nebulous agenda than in recent years. oregonlive, "Oregon lawmakers plan to prioritize pandemic and wildfire recovery, racial justice in 2021 session," 16 Jan. 2021 The statute erases nebulous concepts of negligence in order to free health professionals from the distraction of second-guessing in times of exceptional need. Samuel Tarry, STAT, "Keep Covid-19 vaccination decisions out of the courtroom," 13 Jan. 2021 Computational narratives of existence, where metrics and nebulous data lead to monetization, don’t fit Black experiences. Sydette Harry, Wired, "Listening to Black Women: The Innovation Tech Can't Figure Out," 11 Jan. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nebulous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of nebulous

1674, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for nebulous

Latin nebulosus misty, from nebula

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Time Traveler for nebulous

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The first known use of nebulous was in 1674

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Last Updated

1 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Nebulous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for nebulous



English Language Learners Definition of nebulous

formal : not clear : difficult to see, understand, describe, etc.


neb·​u·​lous | \ ˈne-byə-ləs How to pronounce nebulous (audio) \

Kids Definition of nebulous

: not clear : vague

More from Merriam-Webster on nebulous

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for nebulous

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