ten·​e·​brous ˈte-nə-brəs How to pronounce tenebrous (audio)
: shut off from the light : dark, murky
tenebrous depths
: hard to understand : obscure
a tenebrous affair
: causing gloom

Did you know?

Tenebrous can mean both “obscure” and “murky,” but its history is crystal clear. Etymologists know that the word comes from the Latin noun tenebrae, meaning “darkness.” Tenebrous has been used in English since the 15th century, and in subsequent centuries has been joined by some interesting and even less common relations. Tenebrionid is the name that may be given to any of at least 20,000 species of mostly nocturnal beetles, also called darkling beetles, many of whom love inhabiting dark places. Tenebrism refers to a style of painting—associated especially with the Italian painter Caravaggio—in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow while some are dramatically illuminated by concentrated light. And let’s not forget the terrific tenebrific, a tenebrous synonym.

Examples of tenebrous in a Sentence

a tenebrous night with no moon in the midst of those tenebrous days Thomas Paine penned the immortal words “These are the times that try men's souls”
Recent Examples on the Web What tenebrous horror is this, emerging from the ineffable darkness? Jon Chesto, BostonGlobe.com, 26 Dec. 2022 By the same token, Spanish cinema at large has been reluctant to engage with that tenebrous period. Carlos Aguilar, Los Angeles Times, 30 Dec. 2021 As in the 1610 version, Susanna is seated on a balustrade, but this time there is a tenebrous sky, rather than a clear blue one. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 28 Sep. 2020 Natalie Erika James' assured first feature demonstrates bracing command of atmospherics, from its tenebrous visuals and labyrinthine production design to its nerve-jangling use of music and a thick soundscape stew of bumps, creaks, thuds and groans. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 27 Jan. 2020

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

Word History


Middle English tenebrose, tenebrus, borrowed from Anglo-French tenebreus, borrowed from Latin tenebrōsus, from tenebrae "darkness" + -ōsus -ous — more at tenebrae

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of tenebrous was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near tenebrous

Cite this Entry

“Tenebrous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenebrous. Accessed 29 Sep. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated Did you know?
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!