[ uh-nig-muh ]
/ əˈnɪg mə /
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noun, plural e·nig·mas; Chiefly Archaic e·nig·ma·ta [uh-nig-muh-tuh]. /əˈnɪg mə tə/.

a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation: His disappearance is an enigma that has given rise to much speculation.
a person of puzzling or contradictory character: To me he has always been an enigma, one minute completely insensitive, the next moved to tears.
a saying, question, picture, etc., containing a hidden meaning; riddle.
(initial capital letter) a German-built enciphering machine developed for commercial use in the early 1920s and later adapted and appropriated by German and other Axis powers for military use through World War II.



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Origin of enigma

First recorded in 1530–40; from Latin aenigma, from Greek aínigma, equivalent to ainik- (stem of ainíssesthai “to speak in riddles,” derivative of aînos fable) + -ma noun suffix of result

synonym study for enigma

1. See puzzle.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does enigma mean?

An enigma is someone or something that’s puzzling, mysterious, or difficult to make sense of.

The word enigma can also mean a riddle, but it’s more often used to refer to something that’s so perplexing that it seems like a riddle (and perhaps was intended to seem like one), as in That book is an enigma—I have no idea what it’s really about. 

If you call a person an enigma, you mean that they’re hard to figure out—the reasons behind what they say and do are not easily understood. Some people try to be enigmas to be mysterious.

The adjective enigmatic can be used to describe someone or something that’s puzzling or mysterious.

Example: I’ve known him for years, but he’s still a total enigma to me—I have no idea what his interests are or what he’s really like.

Where does enigma come from?

The first records of the word enigma come from the 1500s. It comes from the Greek ainíssesthai, meaning “to speak in riddles,” from ainos, meaning “fable” or “story.”

A much more specific use of the word is as the name of a ciphering machine used by the German military during World War II. A precursor to computer encryption, the Enigma machine was used to encode messages into a seemingly random string of letters to be decoded by another Enigma machine set up the same way. The deciphering of the Enigma code by Alan Turing and a team of codebreakers allowed the Allies to secretly read intercepted German messages and is thought to be a major factor in the Allied victory.

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What are some other forms related to enigma?

What are some synonyms for enigma?

What are some words that share a root or word element with enigma

What are some words that often get used in discussing enigma?

How is enigma used in real life?

When a situation or problem is called an enigma, it’s one that’s confusing or difficult to understand, like a riddle. When a person is called an enigma, it usually means that they’re hard to know.


Try using enigma!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of enigma?

A. cipher
B. answer
C. puzzle
D. riddle

How to use enigma in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for enigma

/ (ɪˈnɪɡmə) /


a person, thing, or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous

Derived forms of enigma

enigmatic (ˌɛnɪɡˈmætɪk) or enigmatical, adjectiveenigmatically, adverb

Word Origin for enigma

C16: from Latin aenigma, from Greek ainigma, from ainissesthai to speak in riddles, from ainos fable, story
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012