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puz·​zle ˈpə-zəl How to pronounce puzzle (audio)
puzzled; puzzling ˈpə-zə-liŋ How to pronounce puzzle (audio)

transitive verb

: to offer or represent to (someone) a problem difficult to solve or a situation difficult to resolve : challenge mentally
also : to exert (oneself, one's mind, etc.) over such a problem or situation
they puzzled their wits to find a solution
archaic : complicate, entangle
: to solve with difficulty or ingenuity
puzzle out an answer to a riddle

intransitive verb

: to be uncertain as to action or choice
: to attempt a solution of a puzzle by guesswork or experiment
puzzle over the mystery
ˈpə-zə-lər How to pronounce puzzle (audio)


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: the state of being puzzled : perplexity
: something that puzzles
: a question, problem, or contrivance designed for testing ingenuity
Choose the Right Synonym for puzzle


puzzle, perplex, bewilder, distract, nonplus, confound, dumbfound mean to baffle and disturb mentally.

puzzle implies existence of a problem difficult to solve.

the persistent fever puzzled the doctor

perplex adds a suggestion of worry and uncertainty especially about making a necessary decision.

a behavior that perplexed her friends

bewilder stresses a confusion of mind that hampers clear and decisive thinking.

a bewildering number of possibilities

distract implies agitation or uncertainty induced by conflicting preoccupations or interests.

distracted by personal problems

nonplus implies a bafflement that makes orderly planning or deciding impossible.

the remark left us utterly nonplussed

confound implies temporary mental paralysis caused by astonishment or profound abasement.

the tragic news confounded us all

dumbfound suggests intense but momentary confounding; often the idea of astonishment is so stressed that it becomes a near synonym of astound.

was at first too dumbfounded to reply


mystery, problem, enigma, riddle, puzzle mean something which baffles or perplexes.

mystery applies to what cannot be fully understood by reason or less strictly to whatever resists or defies explanation.

the mystery of the stone monoliths

problem applies to a question or difficulty calling for a solution or causing concern.

problems created by high technology

enigma applies to utterance or behavior that is very difficult to interpret.

his suicide remains an enigma

riddle suggests an enigma or problem involving paradox or apparent contradiction.

the riddle of the reclusive pop star

puzzle applies to an enigma or problem that challenges ingenuity for its solution.

the thief's motives were a puzzle for the police

Examples of puzzle in a Sentence

Verb The cause of the accident has puzzled investigators. it is the cause of the disease that puzzles doctors Noun a book of puns, riddles, and puzzles the final fate of the colonists at Roanoke remains a puzzle to this very day
Recent Examples on the Web
For decades, scientists have been trying to untangle puzzling questions over male fertility. Evan Bush, NBC News, 15 Nov. 2023 The anatomy of these enigmatic animals has puzzled researchers for years. Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine, 6 Nov. 2023 This question has puzzled biologists for decades, but some new research says that a starfish’s whole body could function like a head. Laura Baisas, Popular Science, 1 Nov. 2023 As the crime and mystery columnist for the Book Review, Ms. Weinman investigates not mysteries themselves but the merit of mystery novels, offering readers four book suggestions — puzzling whodunits; twisty thrillers — every month. Katherine J. Igoe, New York Times, 31 Oct. 2023 Ripken became a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 98.5% of the vote, so maybe there’s something to a proverb with a murky origin and puzzling imagery. Steve Henson, Los Angeles Times, 23 Oct. 2023 Some voters seemed puzzled, even frustrated, about the road ahead. Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, ABC News, 13 Nov. 2023 There were puzzling quirks that could either charm or challenge, depending on the guest: green plastic dining chairs that looked like they could’ve been bought at a hardware store. Hugh Garvey, Sunset Magazine, 6 Nov. 2023 Scientists are still puzzled by the factors that lead to rapid intensification. Evan Bush, NBC News, 25 Oct. 2023
That’s one of the most enigmatic parts of the whole puzzle. Will Sullivan, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Nov. 2023 The announcement in early December that a car, a white Hyundai Elantra with unknown license plates, may be linked to the scene only ramped up the online conversations among amateur detectives determined to piece together the puzzle. Erik Ortiz, NBC News, 13 Nov. 2023 Try them to tackle even the most challenging puzzles. Sam Corbin, New York Times, 12 Nov. 2023 One experiment, for example, focused on participants' completion of word puzzles after being shown images designed to elicit specific emotional responses. Sara Moniuszko, CBS News, 6 Nov. 2023 Efforts to conserve and replant forests remain a critical piece of the global climate-change puzzle. Condé Nast, The New Yorker, 6 Nov. 2023 The K-pop stars added one more piece to the puzzle of its release on Sunday (Nov. 5), sharing the album’s tracklist on X (formerly known as Twitter). Starr Bowenbank, Billboard, 6 Nov. 2023 An infectious disease specialist, House thrives on the challenge of solving medical puzzles in order to save lives. Todd Spangler, Variety, 6 Nov. 2023 Curbing climate change — and extreme weather for future generations — depends squarely on society’s ability to rapidly build new clean energy infrastructure despite the messy puzzle of local, state and federal reviews projects must overcome. Amy Harder, Fortune, 31 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'puzzle.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



origin unknown

First Known Use


1582, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1


1599, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of puzzle was in 1582

Dictionary Entries Near puzzle

Cite this Entry

“Puzzle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/puzzle. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
puz·​zle ˈpəz-əl How to pronounce puzzle (audio)
puzzled; puzzling -(ə-)liŋ How to pronounce puzzle (audio)
: to confuse the understanding of
: to solve with difficulty or cleverness
puzzler noun


2 of 2 noun
: something that puzzles
: a question, problem, or device designed for testing skill or cleverness

More from Merriam-Webster on puzzle

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