“Even some of his fellow physicists couldn’t quite grasp the most abstruse theories that Einstein posed.”

What is the best definition of abstruse?

Check your answer!

Choice A - Conceptual or existing only in thought
Choice B - Mentally dense or slow to understand
Choice C - Mentally acute and quick to understand
Choice D - Difficult for most people to understand


Abstruse (adjective) – difficult for most people to understand or comprehend

GRE pro tips:

To better remember its meaning, perhaps you can relate abstruse to the similarly sounding word abstract. “Abstract” describes things that exist only in thought or are conceptual (think: theoretical physics concepts), or things that are separated from the material (think: abstract ideas conveyed through “abstract art”). Things that are abstract, versus concrete, are more likely to be abstruse, or difficult to understand.

Abstruse can describe anything that is intrinsically hard to learn, such as Mandarin Chinese or quantum mechanics, or hard to understand, such as writings or lectures that are overly dense or convoluted. But, be careful not to confuse abstruse with the similar sounding obtuse, meaning “dense, or slow to understand.” Although it’s true that an obtuse person would be more likely to consider many things to be abstruse, they are very different words.

Example sentences:

“Many of the classics prove to be too abstruse for modern students, whose minds have been numbed by quick and easy access to information and entertainment.”

“His first works were abstruse and tedious to read, but later the philosopher learned how to better engage a more general audience.”