vaguer; vaguest
: not clearly expressed : stated in indefinite terms
vague accusations
: not having a precise meaning
a vague term of abuse
: not clearly defined, grasped, or understood : indistinct
only a vague notion of what's needed
also : slight
a vague hint of a thickening waistline
hasn't the vaguest idea
: not clearly felt or sensed : somewhat subconscious
a vague longing
: not thinking or expressing one's thoughts clearly or precisely
vague about dates and places
: lacking expression : vacant
vague eyes
a vague stare
: not sharply outlined : hazy
met by vague figures with shaded torchlights Earle Birney
vagueness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for vague

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

Example Sentences

When my three years of military service ended, I looked around for some way to get to spend time in rural Vietnam as a civilian. The driving force was still primarily intellectual curiosity, along with a desire to improve my language ability in a non-Western language and some vague idea of doing folkloristic or literary studies in the future. Neil L. Jamieson, Understanding Vietnam, (1993) 1995 There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood. Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, 1887 At the end of half an hour Tom had a vague general idea of his lesson, but no more, for his mind was traversing the whole field of human thought, and his hands were busy with distracting recreations. Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer, 1876 It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843 The instructions she left were vague and difficult to follow. He gave only a vague answer. The judges determined that the law was too vague to be fairly enforced. She has been vague about her plans for college. We had only a vague idea of where we were. I think I have a vague understanding of how it works. He longed in some vague way for something different. She felt a vague sense of uneasiness when she was around him. I had the vague impression that they were withholding information. We could just barely make out the vague outline of a plane in the sky. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Lefèvre, the museum official, said that community affiliation was too vague a criterion, noting that connections with 19th-century groups were hard to establish. Constant Méheut, New York Times, 28 Nov. 2022 What that particular new world might look like has always been a bit vague, with a few nods to the Austrian School of Economics, or seamless economies that are run entirely on smart contracts. Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker, 22 Nov. 2022 If moments like that seem too vague, others can feel overly explanatory, as if Bratton didn’t entirely trust us to follow along without an occasional nudge. Justin Changfilm Critic, Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 2022 Critics argue that the classification is far too vague and subjective. Abigail Kramer, ProPublica, 17 Nov. 2022 Critics have said the wording of the article is so vague, it can be used to stamp out dissent. Zeynep Bilginsoy, Anchorage Daily News, 14 Nov. 2022 Critics have said the wording of the article is so vague, it can be used to stamp out dissent. Zeynep Bilginsoy, ajc, 13 Nov. 2022 Critics have said the wording of the article is so vague, it can be used to stamp out dissent. Zeynep Bilginsoy, Chicago Tribune, 13 Nov. 2022 Yet details of who might return and who remains hurt were intentionally vague, as been the case all season with Tucker. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, 24 Oct. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vague.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


borrowed from French, going back to Middle French, going back to Old French, "wandering, vagabond," borrowed from Latin vagus "moving freely, wandering," perhaps akin to Old High German wankōn "to totter, stagger," winkan "to waver, stagger, wink," Old English wincian "to close the eyes" — more at wink entry 1

First Known Use

circa 1661, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of vague was circa 1661

Dictionary Entries Near vague

Cite this Entry

“Vague.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

vaguer; vaguest
: not clearly expressed
a vague answer
: not clearly understood or sensed
only a vague idea of where we were
: not clearly outlined : indistinct, shadowy
vague figures in the mist
vaguely adverb
vagueness noun

Legal Definition

: characterized by such a lack of precision that a person of ordinary intelligence would have to guess if particular conduct is being proscribed : characterized by a failure to describe forbidden conduct in terms sufficient to provide fair warning
an unconstitutionally vague law
see also void-for-vagueness doctrine compare overbroad
vaguely adverb
vagueness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on vague

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