Definition of obscure in English:



  • 1Not discovered or known about; uncertain.

    ‘his origins and parentage are obscure’
    • ‘For reasons that are obscure and mysterious to nobody but a three-day-old child, the former culture minister was this week informed his desk was in the lift and that he was now free to spend more time with his record collection.’
    • ‘Even now my restless eyes will settle on its surface and pause, as if some mystery, still obscure, might be solved.’
    • ‘Keep the meaning obscure, and you keep the mystery intact.’
    • ‘One morning after a wild electrical storm, Amanda woke to find a strange inscription on the palm of her hand: a single ‘word’ written in some obscure alphabet.’
    • ‘But Algeria still registers in Western media and minds as an obscure and vaguely mysterious place, somewhere on the periphery of the Middle East.’
    • ‘But the option is there, and it is clear that ministers, from the Prime Minister down - though Mr Jones's position is still obscure - still genuinely think this is a possibility.’
    • ‘Late in the week I discovered that for some obscure reason one of my friends, Caroline, was married to a different man and had different children.’
    • ‘Suddenly, I do not see a happy-go-lucky seventeen year old looking back at me, but an unknown man with an obscure past that I know nothing about.’
    • ‘When in such situations the essential basis of territorial sovereignty is lacking or confused, the situation is obscure and uncertain from a legal point of view.’
    • ‘The rest, for me at least, remained obscure and, even with the text in hand, dubious.’
    • ‘These neighbourhood joints are often obscure, and the upstairs tenants are likely to keep these little secrets to themselves for fear that if Gus in the lobby gets discovered, there will be a lineup.’
    • ‘The outback has a colourful and fascinating history that is often obscure or unknown to many people.’
    • ‘No doubt some reader of this will know her more obscure connections.’
    • ‘Even now, a hundred years on, the precise cause and surrounding circumstances of Oscar Wilde's death remain obscure, shrouded about with mystery.’
    • ‘Foster's performance is excellent, the obscure and mysterious scene setting is just frightening and the special effects are refreshing.’
    unclear, uncertain, unknown, in doubt, doubtful, dubious, mysterious, hazy, vague, indeterminate, concealed, hidden
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1Not clearly expressed or easily understood.
      ‘obscure references to Proust’
      • ‘If you survive his maze of dense wordplay and obscure references, you will probably not find anything too terribly profound, but you'll still be smarter.’
      • ‘With his artisan/architect demeanour most would expect more obscure references; more mystery, metaphor, or magic dust.’
      • ‘According to the notes I've been sent, there seems to be a need to cut or alter all sorts of obscure references to German politicians and places because the audience here won't get them.’
      • ‘Phases that may seem like obscure references to people, animals or those things around us often have a very deep and profound meaning.’
      • ‘Sometimes the lyrics are obscure and difficult to understand, but stick with them as they are always worth it.’
      • ‘If the communication gap is too wide, the message is too obscure for people to understand.’
      • ‘Oblique culinary references and obscure terms go against the grain of the present climate in the culinary world.’
      • ‘His use of obscure jargon underscored the urgent need for secrecy and discretion.’
      • ‘Taylor's one of those crazy people with a humanities minor and is always making obscure references that I don't get.’
      • ‘With that in mind, which of the following obscure, graduate-level references does Mead not use in the article?’
      • ‘This section is disjointed, much is left unexplained, and Brooks uses many obscure local references.’
      • ‘Still, this is a Frank Black album, with its obscure references and abstruse lyrics.’
      • ‘One of my favourite moments of the week is taking out the obscure Canadian reference and replacing it with an obscure American or British reference.’
      • ‘In fact you appear to have to be very advanced in magical theory in order to understand most of the obscure written references about it.’
      • ‘Individualistic and even idiosyncratic as Badri's style can be, no viewer can complain that his paintings are obscure or difficult to understand.’
      • ‘So much the better if you have a cache of slightly obscure references that you can dispense, especially if these bear only tangential relationship to what you are discussing.’
      • ‘Pondering the wisdom of basing a key joke on an obscure music reference that most people won't understand, I wander back downstairs to the lounge.’
      • ‘Characters are represented here, offering a narrative which is obscure and clearly personal to the artist.’
      • ‘Could Mann's love of obscure references and epic sweep have prompted such hostile treatment?’
      • ‘Also, whether or not it's a specific form, do you happen to know a good site or book with reference to more obscure poetry forms?’
      abstruse, recondite, arcane, esoteric, recherché, occult
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2Not important or well known.
      ‘an obscure religious sect’
      • ‘To reach a younger demographic, Jensen and his ilk are eschewing mainstream acts and building brand identity with cutting-edge, forgotten, and obscure music.’
      • ‘Speaking of obscure Australian actors, Andy sent me an email.’
      • ‘However, in the following sections, we see that a minor slight of the American religious right by an obscure professor has provoked an event of international outrage.’
      • ‘Like a Byzantine chant, an obscure collection of religious doctrines - brands - stands poised to take over employee larynges and employee minds.’
      • ‘That kind of data may seem obscure and unimportant, but it's a useful tool for researchers and insurance companies wanting to know long-term hurricane trends.’
      • ‘I have this uncanny ability to recognise some of the most obscure actors.’
      • ‘The body of work includes recent acquisitions and both well known and more obscure works from the gallery.’
      • ‘Is there a post-graduate degree course in obscure extremist political or religious sects?’
      • ‘I tend to forget some obscure titles on albums I rarely play.’
      • ‘Disillusioned and sickened, Balashov achieves salvation by joining the Skoptsy, an obscure religious sect that existed until only a few decades ago.’
      • ‘They have not hint of ‘an obscure self that is forgotten underneath’.’
      • ‘He has a way of giving to some obscure magical belief or religious custom a sort of gripping immediacy.’
      • ‘As a reporter for a major magazine she intended to write about what would no doubt be an odd, perhaps even bizarre practice by an obscure religious sect.’
      • ‘He heard about Bob from a patient who wore a unique gold design on a neck chain, one that Lovejoy recognized as a combination of two obscure religious symbols.’
      • ‘The fear in itself invoked age-old mythologies about the end of the world and gave religious cults the chance to enact rituals based on obscure prophecies.’
      • ‘A set of trimmer figures and new tattoos show a band that's been sharpened by extended tours of an obscure but adoring and importantly, swelling international circuit.’
      • ‘An obscure religious sect, the Raelians, has allegedly taken this step toward the eugenic future.’
      • ‘You could become a flagellant in some obscure religious sect.’
      • ‘But somehow, in the process of cultural production, some obscure, unnoticed, maybe even unconscious revolution took place.’
      • ‘Litigants and witnesses remain practically anonymous - obscure names without faces or detailed personal histories.’
      little known, unknown, unheard of, undistinguished, insignificant, unimportant, inconsequential, inconspicuous, unnoticed, nameless, anonymous, minor, humble, lowly, unrenowned, unsung, unrecognized, unhonoured, inglorious, forgotten
      View synonyms
    3. 1.3Hard to make out or define; vague.
      figurative ‘I feel an obscure resentment’
      • ‘Tilting my head to the side, I felt the smooth cotton of his shirt on my cheek, just as I had Ryan's, and found my eyes drawn back into the obscure depths of his dark eyes.’
      • ‘Yet while Fassbinder remains a signal figure for those who recall his '70s heyday, to a new generation he's something of an obscure shadow from the past.’
      • ‘Most of these people are scared stiff of entering the political arena on their own but eager to do so hidden under some obscure umbrella.’
      • ‘It's to Professor McWorter's credit that he developed the right idea from a vague representation of an obscure intuition.’
      • ‘In doing so, it reflects the manner in which Kafka himself has gradually become indistinguishable from the obscure fascination at the heart of his writings.’
      • ‘In the voice, words are flooded with soulful intentionality; the soul emerges briefly from the obscure corporeal dark and is suddenly there.’
      indistinct, faint, vague, ill-defined, unclear, blurred, blurry, misty, hazy, foggy, veiled, cloudy, clouded, nebulous, fuzzy
      View synonyms
    4. 1.4(of a color) not sharply defined; dim or dingy.


  • 1 Keep from being seen; conceal.

    ‘gray clouds obscure the sun’
    • ‘The sky was 93.5% covered in cloud and light textured cloud or haze obscured the sun.’
    • ‘I feel panic rising in the back of my throat, urgency illuminating my cerebral cortex, and a dark cloud of bewilderment obscuring my vision.’
    • ‘The sun was almost entirely obscured by the heavy clouds, and tiny raindrops descended on the ground, the cold wind causing the rain to be icy.’
    • ‘Subtle surface markings and polar ice caps that would become prominent as there is no dust cloud obscuring the view.’
    • ‘In fact, it is so covered with clouds that they completely obscure its surface.’
    • ‘Early on in this deployment I walked past a sports field and noticed a cloud of dust obscuring the far end.’
    • ‘It was daylight, slightly cold and the sky was filled with clouds, partially obscuring the sun.’
    • ‘Even the half-moon is obscured behind heavy gray cloud.’
    • ‘Clouds obscured the sun, making the tent seem dark.’
    • ‘A cloud of dust obscured the battlefield from view and Vegito was forced to cover his eyes.’
    • ‘Crackling clouds of ice obscured the floor and vast red-gold icefalls blocked the only exit.’
    • ‘Lake Taupo looked windswept and the volcanoes were obscured by low grey cloud.’
    • ‘The clouds billowed up out of nowhere and obscured the sun within seconds.’
    • ‘Hundreds of stargazers had travelled as far north as Orkney and Shetland to witness the spectacular celestial event, but most were thwarted by clouds which obscured the rare phenomenon.’
    • ‘A cloud of fog obscures the tunnel mouth they are about to plunge into and, because the track is tilted, it is also hard to see how the vehicle will be guided.’
    • ‘They all scattered when the demon that they thought to be their father took flight, obscuring the sun and casting a chill shadow upon the sky and his subjects that dwelt there.’
    • ‘Dense black clouds were already obscuring the 15,000-foot peaks that loomed around us.’
    • ‘The sun had been long since covered by the mass of clouds that obscured the grey sky when the new recruitment returned upon a chestnut mare with a large backpack upon his shoulders.’
    • ‘Thick, grey, rain-laden clouds obscure the warm morning sun, casting a certain dreariness upon the land of Myrmar below.’
    • ‘The sun was obscured by high, grey cloud, its disc appearing at once flat and lifeless.’
    hide, conceal, cover, veil, shroud, screen, mask, cloak, cast a shadow over, shadow, envelop, mantle, block, block out, blank out, obliterate, eclipse, overshadow
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1Make unclear and difficult to understand.
      ‘the debate has become obscured by conflicting ideological perspectives’
      • ‘This year's theme also continues the habit of taking the Holocaust out of its historical context, and thus obscuring a true understanding of what it was about.’
      • ‘The network news means to correct this tendency, but unclear language obscures the truth, no matter in whose interest one employs it.’
      • ‘Competing agendas, dismissed administrators and shrill representatives often obscure the facts rather than inform the public.’
      • ‘This seems to be another case of journalism that is intended to obscure the facts rather than shine light on them.’
      • ‘Which is to say, the habitual use of labels obscures the individual rather than illuminates.’
      • ‘Rather than obscuring the line of separation between church and sport, the authorities would serve hockey well by understanding the distinction.’
      • ‘Such an analysis obscures the relation between miscarriages at different stages of gestation and maternal age.’
      • ‘Yet, whilst making headline news, coverage of the scandal is aimed at obscuring any real understanding of the issues involved.’
      • ‘We understand that anti-Semitism obscures the reality of what it is to be a Jew, and has enabled atrocities great and small to be committed upon the Jewish people.’
      • ‘His time in the war rose between us like a vaporous cloud that silenced his pain and obscured my ability to understand it.’
      • ‘It is not that the form of political campaigns has obscured their content: rather, their form has become their content.’
      • ‘I hope that those who participate in this great debate will frame their arguments in language that clarifies the issues rather than obscures them.’
      • ‘Being transparent in one's practice rather than obscuring the process of design’
      • ‘Abroad, his prestige as a Nobel laureate obscured these difficulties.’
      • ‘They can obscure the issues rather than providing clarification.’
      • ‘It tends to obscure the problem rather than highlight it, because we do not try and suggest that a company becomes a trustee for the creditors upon the winding-up.’
      • ‘By the same token, it could be said, historical falsification is bound up with efforts to obscure an understanding of the present.’
      • ‘In this context, it's a terrible shame that Strange Gardens, even though based on a true incident, only serves to obscure those difficult matters all over again.’
      • ‘It is thankfully the most obtuse piece here, and the only one in which that obtuseness obscures the song rather than aiding it.’
      • ‘Once in a while, it would be refreshing to hear these supporters condemn the actions of those few, rather than obscuring their behaviour behind the genuine upset of the innocent others.’
      confuse, complicate, obfuscate, cloud, blur, muddy
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2Overshadow.
      ‘none of this should obscure the skill, experience, and perseverance of the workers’
      • ‘In other words, it is possible for the profiling code to overshadow or obscure a performance problem.’
      • ‘The violent countdown to elections often obscures how that country is charting its new course on the world stage.’
      • ‘Much is made of Timbaland's undoubted skill as a producer, in fact so much is made of it that he seems to overshadow and obscure the artists he works with these days.’
      • ‘More recently you postponed your announcement because, you said, you didn't want it being overshadowed or obscured by your little legal matter.’
      • ‘First, he argued, in data aggregated at the state level, large districts may overshadow or obscure smaller districts.’
      • ‘This approach only detracts and obscures what is really happening.’


Late Middle English: from Old French obscur, from Latin obscurus dark from an Indo-European root meaning cover.