noun (1)
mys·​tery | \ ˈmi-st(ə-)rē How to pronounce mystery (audio) \
plural mysteries

Definition of mystery

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : something not understood or beyond understanding : enigma The mystery of his disappearance has never been solved.
b : a piece of fiction dealing usually with the solution of a mysterious crime Reading mysteries was her favorite pastime.
c : the secret or specialized practices or ritual peculiar to an occupation or a body of people the mysteries of the tailor's craft
d obsolete : a private secret
2 : profound, inexplicable, or secretive quality or character the mystery of her smile the mysteries and beauties of nature
3a : a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity
b(1) : any of the 20 events (such as the Nativity, the Crucifixion, or the Assumption) serving as a subject for meditation during the saying of the rosary
(2) capitalized : a Christian sacrament specifically : eucharist
c(1) : a secret religious rite believed (as in Eleusinian and Mithraic cults) to impart enduring bliss to the initiate
(2) : a cult devoted to such rites


noun (2)
plural mysteries

Definition of mystery (Entry 2 of 2)

1 archaic : trade, craft
2 archaic : a body of persons engaged in a particular trade, business, or profession : guild

Choose the Right Synonym for mystery

Noun (1)

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

First Known Use of mystery

Noun (1)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3a

Noun (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for mystery

Noun (1)

Middle English mysterie "hidden religious truth, rite or event with religious significance, hidden meaning," borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French misterie, borrowed from Late Latin mystērium "hidden religious truth revealed by God, religious rite, Eucharist," going back to Latin (in plural mystēria), "secret religious rites, things not to be divulged," borrowed from Greek mystḗrion, plural mystḗria "religious rite to which only initiates may be admitted, secret" (in the New Testament, "religious truth revealed by God"), from mys-, base of mýstēs "person initiated (into a religious cult)" + -tērion, suffix in words denoting instruments, place and ceremonies (derivative of -tēr, agent suffix) — more at mystic entry 1

Noun (2)

Middle English mysterie "ministry, office, craft," borrowed from Medieval Latin misterium "duty, office, occupation, trade," in part Latinization of Anglo-French mester, mister (continental Old French mestier) "function, duty, pursuit, trade, craft, guild" (going back to Late Latin mīsterium, variant of Latin ministerium "office of a servant or attendant, duty, support"), in part borrowed directly from Late Latin — more at ministry

Note: Medieval and Late Latin misterium are conventionally explained as a conflation of ministerium and Late Latin mystērium "hidden religious truth, religious rite, Eucharist" (see mystery entry 1), though a Late Latin form mīsterium (assuming manuscript spellings are early) would be a natural outcome of ministerium with loss of the pre-tonic vowel and nasal consonant.

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The first known use of mystery was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Mystery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for mystery


mys·​tery | \ ˈmi-stə-rē How to pronounce mystery (audio) \
plural mysteries

Kids Definition of mystery

1 : something that has not been or cannot be explained Her disappearance remains a mystery. Their success is a mystery to me.
2 : a piece of fiction about solving a crime


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