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 obscure (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 To Naveca, the Zika virus is a case study in the value of tracking obscure pathogens. Daniel Grossman, Science | AAAS, "Scientists scour the Amazon for pathogens that could spark the next pandemic," 29 Apr. 2021 Back in March 2020, Trump invoked Title 42, an obscure public health statute from 1944 that allows the president to deny entry into the United States to foreign nationals who might spread a communicable disease. Fidel Martinez, Los Angeles Times, "Latinx Files: The cruelty of Biden’s immigration policy," 29 Apr. 2021 Magic the Gathering is a game with decades of history, tens of thousands of cards, and so many obscure rulings, terminology and interactions that anybody knowing what every single card does would be impossible. Joe Parlock, Forbes, "Why Sphinx Of The Second Sun Causes So Many Arguments In ‘Magic The Gathering’," 28 Apr. 2021 Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, from 1872, and an obscure volume by the French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne from 1862. Kate Crawford, The Atlantic, "Why We Shouldn’t Trust AI to Tell Us What We Feel," 27 Apr. 2021 Since counter-culture boomed in the 60s and 70s, the grass in the center of the racetrack has morphed into an often obscure and unruly place. Maggie Menderski, The Courier-Journal, "Wild, weird and historic: The Kentucky Derby infield has served as a sign of the times," 27 Apr. 2021 For superfans, who are probably drawn to one of their more obscure or odd films, this adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel has always felt like a really good but somewhat familiar riff on past Coen themes. Tim Grierson, Vulture, "Every Oscar Best Picture Winner, Ranked," 26 Apr. 2021 Hollywood is a dream factory: a manufacturer of images, fantasies, celebrity, with some visions coming at the expense of, practically being produced in order to deliberately obscure, others. K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone, "Movie Stars: They’re Just Like Us?," 26 Apr. 2021 The noncommercial station had in those years an anarchic pulse, promoting left-wing causes, obscure music and identity politics long before the term had been coined. Washington Post, "Bob Fass, ’60s counterculture curator and radio pioneer, dies at 87," 26 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb For the granular emphaticness of its visual technique and its god-like ability to see seemingly everything, what Gunda cannot obscure is the Gunda of it all. K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone, "‘Gunda’: An Intimate Portrait of a Sow’s Life," 17 Apr. 2021 The opaque nature of much of that dealmaking can obscure the risk banks lending to these players face, Weller said. NBC News, "Hedge fund bets set off market gyrations," 29 Mar. 2021 But regrettably, the same can also be said of greenwashing, which is when a business presents itself as environmentally friendly in an attempt to obscure its past or current practices that are harmful to the environment. Paul Polman, Fortune, "Corporate greenwashing is all the rage. How can we stop it?," 11 Apr. 2021 Roosevelt was able to pivot in his third term to fighting World War II, and that pivot served to obscure the disappointing economic record of his first two terms, prior to World War II. John Fund, National Review, "Biden Aims to Outshine Obama as a Progressive Reformer," 4 Apr. 2021 Amadeo wants to obscure his professional failures and his drinking, though each bout of fear or shame snowballs into a problem that somebody – usually Angel – has to address. Mark Athitakis, USA TODAY, "'The Five Wounds': A family perseveres in Kirstin Valdez Quade’s big-hearted novel," 2 Apr. 2021 That’s because of codes embedded on their websites which serve to obscure that data from Google Search results. Andy Meek, BGR, "Reverse SEO? Hospitals caught hiding price details from Google Search," 24 Mar. 2021 Official government accounts of Khatyn and other wartime massacres tend to obscure the role of Nazi collaborators while celebrating the actions of Belarusian partisans, who are widely lauded as patriotic heroes. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, "Remembering the Khatyn Massacre," 22 Mar. 2021 Regular stories in the international press highlighting the treatment of Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region tend to obscure the fact that Islam was once highly regarded by Chinese emperors. Alessandra Cappelletti, Quartz, "The city of Suzhou highlights Islam’s long history in China," 12 Mar. 2021

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

1 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Obscure.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscure. Accessed 7 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for obscure



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



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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