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 Over the next three years, Kojima continued to be maddeningly obscure in teasing the game. Adrian Chen, New York Times, "Hideo Kojima’s Strange, Unforgettable Video-Game Worlds," 3 Mar. 2020 Now, Torres is obscure no more—and finds herself at the center of controversy that has included calls for her resignation. Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, Science | AAAS, "Colombia’s first ever science minister faces calls to resign over fungi-based cancer treatment," 3 Feb. 2020 But for the more common forms of ALS, the cause is obscure — and maybe there’s more than one. BostonGlobe.com, "FDA-approved drugs can slow its progression or treat some of its symptoms, but so far there is no treatment that stops ALS.," 12 Dec. 2019 The only application so far has been fairly obscure—optimizing a process for dividing up graphs—but the approach has already generated some promising spin-offs, says Eric Anschuetz, a graduate student at MIT who has worked at Zapata. Michael Brooks, Scientific American, "Beyond Quantum Supremacy: The Hunt for Useful Quantum Computers," 3 Oct. 2019 Behind the scenes, intense negotiations are occurring among music unions, major labels, indie labels and consortiums representing artists both famous and obscure. Carolyn Said, SFChronicle.com, "Musicians say AB5 strikes sour note with gig-driven profession," 24 Feb. 2020 While experts continue to parse the flaws in the reporting process, the stark and simple fact that more voters supported Sanders than any other candidate somehow remains irrelevant, obscure. Corey Robin, The New York Review of Books, "The Tyranny of the Minority, from Iowa Caucus to Electoral College," 21 Feb. 2020 Anguilla owes its good fortune to the large, yet obscure and often quirky, market for internet addresses. Steve Lohr, New York Times, "Tropical Breezes, Pristine Beaches and a Domain Name to Die For," 4 Feb. 2020 Many major political movements begin like this one, obscure and unorganized. Salena Zito, WSJ, "The Second Amendment Sanctuary Movement Isn’t Going Away," 21 Jan. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Afterwards investigators found dangerous levels of methane, poor ventilation, faulty machines, broken water-sprinklers and thick, sight-obscuring clouds of coal dust. The Economist, "Notes from the underground A West Virginian tragedy in Manhattan," 7 Mar. 2020 Another issue with the show is a convoluted plot structure that obscures the relationship between its three main characters. Geek's Guide To The Galaxy, WIRED, "‘The Witcher’ Might Get Better in Season 2," 8 Feb. 2020 At turns suspected of being compact, gassy clouds—or dim stars cloaked by an obscuring shroud—the two objects remain deeply enigmatic. Nadia Drake, Scientific American, "Mysterious, Dusty Objects Are Swarming the Milky Way’s Core," 15 Jan. 2020 But a methane haze is also in the mix, causing the obscuring atmospheric layer. Ashley Strickland, CNN, "New class of 'cotton candy' exoplanets are the lightest ever found," 19 Dec. 2019 The Wall Street Journal has a piquant profile of Jonna Mendez, a former CIA agent who created hyper-realistic masks and other identity-obscuring prosthetics to disguise her colleagues. Robert Hackett, Fortune, "You Tell Us: Should People Use Facial Recognition?," 18 Dec. 2019 Come late September and early October, the vista-obscuring haze from wildfires near and far that can occasionally affect the region during the summer has (hopefully) lifted for the year. Justin Franz, The Know, "Have Glacier National Park to yourself," 1 Sep. 2019 Come late September and early October, the vista-obscuring haze from wildfires near and far that can occasionally affect the region during the summer has (hopefully) lifted for the year. Justin Franz, Houston Chronicle, "Have Glacier National Park to yourself in the fall," 30 Aug. 2019 Teaching Tolerance said this teaching obscures the institution of slavery’s influence on factors like sectionalism, states' rights and economic disagreements. al, "Alabama’s black history runs deep, but some students skim the surface," 1 Mar. 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

19 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Obscure.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscure. Accessed 30 Mar. 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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