ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \

Definition of obscure

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : dark, dim the obscure dusk of the shuttered room
b : shrouded in or hidden by darkness standing obscure in the deepest shade
c : not clearly seen or easily distinguished : faint obscure markings
2 : not readily understood or clearly expressed also : mysterious a slough of pretentious and obscure jargon — Philip Howard
3 : relatively unknown: such as
a : remote, secluded an obscure village
b : not prominent or famous an obscure poet
4 : constituting the unstressed vowel \ə\ or having unstressed \ə\ as its value


ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \
obscured; obscuring

Definition of obscure (Entry 2 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : to make dark, dim, or indistinct The soot on the lampshade obscured the light.
2 : to conceal or hide by or as if by covering … snow on glaciers can obscure deep crevasses.— Tom Simon
3 : to reduce (a vowel) to the value \ə\


ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \

Definition of obscure (Entry 3 of 3)

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Other Words from obscure


obscurely adverb
obscureness noun


obscuration \ ˌäb-​skyu̇-​ˈrā-​shən How to pronounce obscuration (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for obscure


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 poems dark 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 writings cryptic implies a purposely concealed meaning. cryptic hints of hidden treasure ambiguous 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

Examples of obscure in a Sentence

Adjective Many people shared an obscure sense of gratification that [Dylan] Thomas had died young, as a poet should. — Adam Kirsch, New Yorker, 5 July 2004 But by 1830 the Boston Mission Board was desperate enough that it targeted an obscure sect of Oriental Christians, the Nestorians in faraway Iran, as a possibility for conversion. — Robert D. Kaplan, The Arabists, 1993 I knew they were special from their jeans and T-shirts, their knowing, ironic looks when obscure works of literature were referred to. — Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, 1991 Now at last Bacon could refer when he chose to his father's high position and his father's service—and no man could say it was done for self-aggrandizement, as a son who is obscure bespeaks the glory of past forebears. — Catherine Drinker Bowen, Francis Bacon, 1963 The movie is full of obscure references that only pop culture enthusiasts will understand. The origins of the language are obscure. Verb Throughout this book, the ground of fact becomes obscured entirely by a deep layer of speculative quicksand. — Helen Vendler, New Republic, 10 June 2002 But evening comes or even noon and some combination of nervous tensions obscures my memories of what whiskey costs me in the way of physical and intellectual well-being. — John Cheever, New Yorker, 13 Aug. 1990 … [Mr. Schuller's] … "Early Jazz" brought a sometimes Olympian precision to writing about an art that has often languished in the whale's belly of sociology, obscured by pretension and blubbery thinking. — Stanley Crouch, New York Times Book Review, 2 Apr. 1989 It was eight o'clock when we landed; we walked for a short time on the shore enjoying the transitory light, and then retired to the inn and contemplated the lovely scene of waters, woods, and mountains, obscured in darkness, yet still displaying their black outlines. — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818 The true history has been obscured by legends about what happened. They accused the company of trying to obscure the fact that the product poses a health risk. Noun … who shall … through the palpable obscure find out his uncouth way … ? — John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Leon Redbone Enigmatic cult singer Redbone died on May 30 after a long and storied career as an archivist and historian of obscure, pre-recording-era American music. Sophie Dodd, PEOPLE.com, "Remembering the Stars We Lost in 2019," 5 Dec. 2019 And Innate was obscure in biotech circles, a penny stock whose press releases and milestones were met with disinterest from mainstream analysts and indifference by the market. Damian Garde, STAT, "Former Rep. Chris Collins sentenced to 26 months in prison in biotech insider trading scheme," 17 Jan. 2020 But with the First World War, the motivations are obscure. Eric R. Danton, Fortune, "World War I Takes the Pop Culture Spotlight After Years of Being the ‘Neglected War’," 14 Jan. 2020 Though the lyrics are intentionally obscure, the expansive and rugged terrain clearly spills into the song’s boundless adventure and breathless pace. Bryan Kress, Billboard, "Post Animal Are Out to 'Disrupt' Expectations With Explosive New Single 'Fitness': Exclusive," 7 Jan. 2020 Onetti’s style, which can create such lovely scenes of phantasmagoria, can be obscure in other ways. Edmund White, Harper's magazine, "Existential Noir," 6 Jan. 2020 The reference made by the 60-year-old Steele was too obscure and too much of a throwback for the young linebacker. Tom Green | Tgreen@al.com, al, "How Zakoby McClain made a ‘household name’ for himself as Ricochet Rabbit," 20 Dec. 2019 In 2016, JNU’s student activism came under scrutiny after a group of protesters, whose identities are yet obscure, allegedly raised anti-national slogans on the campus. Niharika Sharma, Quartz India, "The JNU uprising has profound implications for India’s student community," 3 Dec. 2019 Some are more obscure, like accessing the Bookmark Manager (Cmd + Option + B) or clearing browsing data (Cmd + Shift + Delete). Matthew De Silva, Quartz, "An essential guide to Google Chrome’s most useful shortcuts," 25 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Which aspects should be obscured or tidied away or carefully contextualized to protect the viewer’s sensibility? Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, "What Do We Want History to Do to Us?," 11 Feb. 2020 The drama around Brown has at least partially obscured the fact this defense has a chance to be very, very good. BostonGlobe.com, "So much for a 2019 version of the Miami Miracle.," 15 Sep. 2019 On the far end of the facility, prone on a training table, was a player writhing in pain, with a towel over his head, obscuring his face. Dallas News, "Potential ramifications of Luka Doncic’s ankle injury, including his now questionable All-Star Game status," 31 Jan. 2020 Doctors' recommendations to drop pounds are still extremely common, even though using body size as a one-size-fits-all proxy for health can obscure the complexity of an individual's particular physiology. The Editors, Scientific American, "Doctors Need to Focus Less on a Patient’s Weight," 30 Jan. 2020 For much of last week, lawyers questioned Mitchell about documents, intelligence, and alphanumeric codes used to mask the identities of people who worked at the black sites and obscure the locations of the prisons. Carol Rosenberg, BostonGlobe.com, "CIA interrogator admits he threatened to kill alleged 9/11 conspirator’s child," 29 Jan. 2020 But Mahesh, who's on the board of the physicists' association, cautioned that lead collars to protect the thyroid may not be helpful and could obscure images taken by newer 3D dental imaging machines. Kaiser Health News, oregonlive, "Are X-ray aprons a feel-good measure that hurts diagnoses? Doctors increasingly say yes," 19 Jan. 2020 The drama wastes its own potential, obscuring the promising arcs established in its early episodes. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, "Female Athletes Get New Representation on TV," 14 Jan. 2020 Unfortunately, the smallness of that rant and others like it this season has obscured the really big thing Clemson is on the verge of accomplishing. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Dabo Swinney obscuring how great this Clemson run has been with his rants," 11 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'obscure.' 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 obscure


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1667, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for obscure

Adjective, Verb, and Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French oscur, obscur, from Latin obscurus

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Time Traveler for obscure

Time Traveler

The first known use of obscure was in the 15th century

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Statistics for obscure

Last Updated

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Obscure.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscure. Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for obscure


How to pronounce obscure (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of obscure

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: not well-known : not known to most people
: difficult to understand : likely to be understood by only a few people
: difficult or impossible to know completely and with certainty


How to pronounce obscure (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of obscure (Entry 2 of 2)

: to make (something) difficult to understand or know : to make (something) obscure
: to hide or cover (something) : to be in front of (something) so that it cannot be seen


ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \

Kids Definition of obscure

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not easy to see : faint an obscure light
2 : hidden from view an obscure village
3 : not easily understood or clearly expressed I struggled with an obscure chapter in the book.
4 : not outstanding or famous It was written by an obscure poet.


obscured; obscuring

Kids Definition of obscure (Entry 2 of 2)

: to make difficult to see or understand Clouds drifted across the sky, obscuring the thin sliver of moon.— Brian Jacques, Redwall

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More from Merriam-Webster on obscure

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for obscure

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with obscure

Spanish Central: Translation of obscure

Nglish: Translation of obscure for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of obscure for Arabic Speakers

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