Translucent vs. Opaque

  angbeenc  —  Grammar Tips

If you can see through something, is it opaque, translucent, or transparent? Two of these words might fit, depending on how clearly you can see through the object, but the other word is definitely not accurate. All three of these adjectives describe the amount of light that can pass through something: all light, some light, or no light. Continue reading to find out the difference.

In this post, I will compare translucent vs. opaque. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see how they appear in context. Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that you can use to choose translucent or opaque correctly every time.


The word translucent originated in late 16th century (in the Latin sense): from Latin translucent- ‘shining through’, from the verb translucere, from trans- ‘through’ + lucere ‘to shine’. The word opaque originated from late Middle English opake, from Latin opacus ‘darkened’. The current spelling (rare before the 19th century) has been influenced by the French form.

Translucent as adjective:

The word translucent is used as an adjective in English language where it refers to (of a substance) allowing light, but not detailed shapes, to pass through; semi-transparent.

Her beautiful translucent skin was the center of attraction for everyone in the room.

Opaque as adjective:

The word opaque is also an adjective which describes a noun that is not able to be seen through; not transparent.

Bottles filled with a pale opaque liquid.


The strain of dulse they came up with, which looks like translucent red lettuce, is a great source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, not to mention protein. (The Daily Astorian)

They will, of course, provide life’s necessities and amenities on-site: micro kitchens, rooftop gardens, translucent roofs, bike paths, restaurants. (The Washington Post)

To date, strategy and performance among the executive branch of government has been somewhat opaque. (The Brisbane Times)

But in the largely opaque process of choosing the secretary-general, the five permanent members of the Security Council, including the United States, have the real power. (The Miami Herald)

The bright green boat, freshly painted, rode high on the opaque water. (National Geographic)

Translucent or opaque:

Opaque and translucent are adjectives that deal with how much light passes through an object. If the object is opaque, no light passes through. If it is translucent, some (but not all) light passes through. The words are not interchangeable, so you must be careful to use each correctly. Since translucent and transparent objects both allow light to pass through, and both start with the root trans-, you can easily remember to use one of these words if light passes through an object.