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 means "obscure" or "murky," but there's nothing unclear about its history. Etymologists know that the word derives from the Latin noun tenebrae, which means "darkness." Tenebrous has been used in English since the 15th century, and in the 20th century it was joined by some interesting relations. Tenebrionid is the name of a nocturnal beetle that is usually dark-colored and is also called a darkling beetle. Tenebrism refers to a style of painting—associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio—in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow but some are dramatically illuminated by concentrated light.

Example Sentences

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

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 7 Dec. 2022.

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