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


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.


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.


… who shall … through the palpable obscure find out his uncouth way … ? — John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Medaglia’s favorite bus is No. 172 from the somewhat obscure Las Vegas-Tonopah-Reno Stage Line, which ran in Nevada and Arizona. Carl Nolte, SFChronicle.com, "There really is a place where old buses are admired and respected — and it’s in Fremont," 17 Aug. 2019 Many of the companies—from Johnson & Johnson to obscure distributors like Cardinal Health—are listed as defendants in hundreds of lawsuits filed by nearly every state in the country. Zachary Siegel, The New Republic, "The Opioid Crisis Is About More Than Corporate Greed," 30 July 2019 With more than a hundred Raiders alumni on hand, ranging from legendary to the obscure, Gruden hoped a few would take the opportunity to impart some wisdom on the 2019 Raiders. Jerry Mcdonald, The Mercury News, "Derek Carr on the run, and not for his life, as Raiders open practice," 27 July 2019 Portions of Interstate 75 were closed periodically as shifting winds caused billowing smoke to obscure visibility. Meghan Overdeep, Southern Living, "WATCH: Massive Wildfire Swallows up Portion of Florida Everglades," 26 June 2019 Further Reading Apple’s watchOS 6 brings new apps (and various iPhone apps) to Watch ARKit itself will gain what's called people occlusion, which means that the framework will be able to obscure objects that a person walks in front of in real time. Samuel Axon, Ars Technica, "Apple shares its vision for macOS 10.15 Catalina: Cross-platform apps are key," 3 June 2019 North Korea is also using overseas companies and individuals to obscure income-generating activities for the government, the panel said. Fox News, "UN experts: NKorea hasn't stopped nuke and missile programs," 4 Aug. 2018 In a less overt – and far less malevolent way – the Democratic Establishment used leftwing identity politics in 2016 to obscure class tensions within its own tent. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Ocasio-Cortez Proved That ‘Identity Politics’ Is an Asset For Berniecrats," 27 June 2018 Encouraged by some inside the NFL to follow his passion no matter how obscure, Mel Kiper, a coiffed, fast-talking draft analyst, constructed an empire out of his love for the league’s college-to-professional pipeline. The Si Staff, SI.com, "100 Figures Who Shaped the NFL’s First Century," 28 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

But Matthew Bietz, a bioethicist at the University of California at Irvine, argues that the abundance of readily accessible data can obscure the potential privacy risks of scraping sites like YouTube for research. Sidney Fussell, The Atlantic, "Medical Researchers Want Your YouTube Videos," 9 Sep. 2019 Again, partial disclosure can obscure rather than illuminate. Michael Taylor, ExpressNews.com, "We have nothing to fear from employers disclosing salaries," 9 Aug. 2019 But that margin can obscure a racial divide: white women preferred Trump to Clinton by two points. Eric Lach, The New Yorker, "The Trump Campaign Pitches Women Its Crypto-Majority Argument," 17 July 2019 Theatrical lighting can obscure a great deal and an overly clean space usually has meant death to the aesthetic of a cabaret. Chris Jones, chicagotribune.com, "Cirque du Supper: Teatro ZinZanni bets big on a long-lost space in Chicago’s Loop," 26 June 2019 Towson is one of those areas — but Marks said looking at census-level data can obscure tiny East Towson’s structural challenges. Libby Solomon, baltimoresun.com, "Affordable housing development proposed for East Towson," 19 June 2019 National crime data can obscure local crime trends. Zusha Elinson, WSJ, "Murders Declined in 2017, Ending Two-Year Rise, FBI Data Show," 24 Sep. 2018 All this worry about the prospect of a new Gilded Age can obscure the fact that there are solutions to many of the problems informing these comparisons. Sarah Jones, The New Republic, "Lessons From the Gilded Age," 13 June 2018 Flights throughout the Amazon were halted on Friday as heavy smoke obscured the visibility in the skies. Washington Post, "As fires rage in the Amazon, international pressure mounts on Brazil to take action," 23 Aug. 2019

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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Last Updated

18 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for obscure

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

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on obscure

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with obscure

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for obscure

Spanish Central: Translation of obscure

Nglish: Translation of obscure for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of obscure for Arabic Speakers

Comments on obscure

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authorized for issue (as a bond)

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