“The opaque student struggled even more than his classmates to learn the rather opaque math concepts. He might as well have been viewing them through an opaque screen.”

Based on the sentence illustrated above, which of the following are possible definition of the word opaque?

I. Difficult to understand
II. Written in fancy handwriting
III. Mentally dense or slow to learn
IV. Difficult to see through (not transparent)

Check your answer!

Choice A - I and III
Choice B - II and IV
Choice C - I, II, and III
Choice D - I, III, and IV


Opaque (adjective) – not clear or transparent (in reference to an object); difficult to explain or understand, or having a veiled meaning (in reference to a subject or concept); or, slow to understand or dull-witted (in reference to a person)

Opacity (noun) – the state of being difficult to see through; the state of being difficult to understand, unintelligible; or, the state of being mentally dull or obtuse

GRE pro tips:

Opaque is an interesting word because it has several distinct—but related—meanings. It can refer to an object that is unclear in that it does not let light through, such as an opaque rock or stained glass. Likewise, it can refer to a subject or topic that is unclear in that it is difficult to understand or enigmatic, such as poetry or theoretical physics. Lastly, it can be used to describe someone who has difficulty understanding things, as if their eyes or brain are unclear.

Try to tie these definitions together to remember them better. A subject (like theoretical physics) might be so opaque that you may as well view it through an opaque window—it’s that hard to understand. Or, someone might be so opaque that he may as well be looking through an opaque window or lens—he has such a hard time seeing and understanding things.

Example sentences:

“The windows in the bathroom were made opaque for the sake of privacy.”

“The teacher struggled to make sense of his opaque poetry.”

“He was too opaque to notice they were making fun of him.”