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noun (1)

mys·​tery ˈmi-st(ə-)rē How to pronounce mystery (audio)
plural mysteries
: something not understood or beyond understanding : enigma
The mystery of his disappearance has never been solved.
: a piece of fiction dealing usually with the solution of a mysterious crime
Reading mysteries was her favorite pastime.
: the secret or specialized practices or ritual peculiar to an occupation or a body of people
the mysteries of the tailor's craft
obsolete : a private secret
: profound, inexplicable, or secretive quality or character
the mystery of her smile
the mysteries and beauties of nature
: a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand
the mystery of the Trinity
: 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
capitalized : a Christian sacrament
specifically : eucharist
: a secret religious rite believed (as in Eleusinian and Mithraic cults) to impart enduring bliss to the initiate
: a cult devoted to such rites


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noun (2)

plural mysteries
archaic : trade, craft
archaic : a body of persons engaged in a particular trade, business, or profession : guild
Choose the Right Synonym for mystery

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 mystery in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
How the scammer knew the details of the high school friend remains a mystery, highlighting the audacious lengths these crooks will go to deceive you. Kurt Knutsson, Fox News, 22 Sep. 2023 The third season of Only Murders premiered Aug. 8, with stars Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin returning as true-crime-loving neighbors who get wrapped up in a murder mystery. Rania Aniftos, Billboard, 20 Sep. 2023 But the reason behind the killing remains a mystery. Nouran Salahieh, CNN, 18 Sep. 2023 There’s some fun mystery in that — the mystery of discovering what the band is going to play. Daniel Kohn, Spin, 18 Sep. 2023 Yet not even the combination of old-school murder mystery and hyped-up haunted house shenanigans can give this Poirot excursion a pulse. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 16 Sep. 2023 In our list of dark horrors, twisting mysteries, and nostalgic bildungsromans, there’s something for everyone looking to get in the school spirit. Elena Giardina,, 15 Sep. 2023 Season 2 follows investigators Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) and Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie) into the world of drone warfare to solve a mystery surrounding multiple deaths at a Scottish weapons test. Patrick Frater, Variety, 15 Sep. 2023 However, given the Belgian detective's knack for getting ensnared in a mystery, he is soon enticed into attending a séance in a grand palazzo on Halloween night, where a murder reveals possible supernatural occurrences. Emily Zemler, Condé Nast Traveler, 15 Sep. 2023 See More

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

Word History


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.

First Known Use

Noun (1)

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

Noun (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near mystery

Cite this Entry

“Mystery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


plural mysteries
: a religious truth that cannot be fully understood
: any of the 15 events (as the Nativity, the Crucifixion, or the Assumption) which serve as subjects for meditation by Roman Catholics as they say the rosary
: something that has not been or cannot be explained
where they went is a mystery
: a deep secret
kept their plans a mystery
: a work of fiction dealing with the solution of a mysterious crime

More from Merriam-Webster on mystery

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