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If light can pass through an object, or if you can see through it, it is transparent.

Is there a similar word for "air can pass through", or you can breathe through an object? This adjective would be used to describe a screen door, or certain types of fabric.

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translucent also means that light can pass through it, but wiki explains it a little better, Transparent & Translucent and I couldn't find anything to add answer wise, other than that technically the air we breath is a liquid (fluid) so @Susan's answer is the best answer in my opinion, as permeable and transparent/translucent are all Adjectives –  Malachi Dec 26 '13 at 18:50
    
I can't come up with a good answer, but it may be useful to know that transparency is used not only for light. For example, speaker grill fabric is referred to as acoustically transparent. Perhaps some more context would help us get you the word you desire? –  altendky Dec 26 '13 at 20:08
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This is English... make up a word for it. Maybe transairent. –  user60597 Dec 26 '13 at 21:36
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So you want something that is the opposite of airtight then, so something that’s well-ventilated or breezy? –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 5:44
    
There's value in Allo's answer, though permeability (perviousness implied via penetrability) has been mentioned, it is a relief to know that German has the word for it - luftdurchlässig albeit at the cost of being almost unpronounceable. dict.cc/german-english/luftdurchl%C3%A4ssig.html –  user60655 Dec 27 '13 at 9:22

17 Answers 17

up vote 121 down vote accepted

permeable if the pores are small

allowing liquids or gases to pass through; capable of being permeated; penetrable; especially: having pores or openings that permit liquids or gases to pass through

breathable if it's a fabric

Permitting air to pass through: a breathable fabric.

I don't know what to call this property in a screen door...

apologies to @James McLeod - I didn't read the entire question and jumped on permeable.

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I would say that, technically, a screen door would be considered permeable, although that property is usually implied and would most likely never have to be defined. Another option when it comes to doors/windows/etc. would be "drafty." I usually hear that term used to describe air coming through a building's fixture. –  Dryden Long Dec 26 '13 at 17:28
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"Drafty" to me indicates a shortcoming. "Airy" is similar but implies that it is by design. –  Steve H. Dec 26 '13 at 17:41
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Since "permeable" also can apply to various substances, you might want to qualify it as "air-permeable" –  Mooing Duck Dec 26 '13 at 18:21
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PTFE does not let air flow through as it is also considered windproof, yet it is the heart of most waterproof yet breathable jackets. All my experience with the use of breathability of fabrics refers its ability to pass water vapor (even if by condensation and re-evaporation). Most easily this is achieved with a fabric that also allows air flow but that is not what I have observed to be the defining characteristic. –  altendky Dec 26 '13 at 20:07
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permeable is the first thing that comes to mind, however it does not imply that something has to be permeable to only air. –  RealityDysfunction Dec 26 '13 at 23:08

Rather to my disgust (as some who grew up reading a great deal of science fiction), the industry-accepted term for this is "breathable."

I know this is ugly and misleading, but it's the word.

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+1 - when you're right, you're right. –  medica Dec 26 '13 at 13:17
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I don’t understand the source of your disgustation here. –  tchrist Dec 26 '13 at 17:08
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@tchrist: I expect James means we only had breathable atmospheres in sci-fi, not breathable fabrics. –  FumbleFingers Dec 26 '13 at 17:21
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@FumbleFingers Breathable fabrics in a space-suit are automatically self-defeating, I should imagine. –  tchrist Dec 26 '13 at 17:23
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@tchrist: Often the suffix "able" works on a verb X to form adjective "X-able" meaning "something that can be X-ed": "eatable = something that can be eaten", "readable=can be read", "applicable=can be applied", "respectable=can be respected", "admirable=be admired", "desirable=be desired", "tolerable=be tolerated", "acceptable=be accepted", "conceivable=be conceived", "separable=be separated", etc. But instead of "can be breathed" (as in "breathable atmosphere"), here in fabrics "breathable = can breathe", which ("can X") does not follow the generally understood meaning of the suffix. –  ShreevatsaR Dec 27 '13 at 8:21

In addition to other answers' suggestions of breathable and permeable (admittedly better suited to your use case), I'd add porous for some uses:

(of a rock or other material) having minute interstices through which liquid or air may pass.

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Porous is related to permeable, but it's distinct - Porous means 'containing pores', but doesn't specify that the pores be interconnected such that liquid or air can move from one pore to the next. So, a material like fabric can both porous and permeable, while something like polystyrene is porous but not permeable (to water, at least). Like others have said, permeability is fluid-specific (water vs. air), but porosity is not (either it has pores or it doesn't). –  Beejamin Dec 27 '13 at 1:05
    
@Beejamin: err...Best I can recollect, porous means permeable to water in material science; it admittedly has a connotation of how it's porous due to its etymology, but it's otherwise used interchangeably. –  Denis de Bernardy Dec 27 '13 at 9:09
    
@Denis - Porous does mean containing pores. In general, it refers to the fact that a surface does not entirely exclude the absorption of liquids or gas. Rather, it allows them to be absorbed. Think of a sponge. That is the very definition of porous. It does NOT imply that it allows free passage through to the other side. –  David M Dec 27 '13 at 20:17
    
Yep - @DavidM's got it. Porosity is an indicator how much capacity/free space there is in the material (how big the pores are, and what shape), and permeability is an indicator of how easily fluids can flow through the material. –  Beejamin Dec 27 '13 at 20:51

A Latin based word (like so many words are) would be either

Transaerocent - Air passes through easily or without resistance.

Aeropermeable - Air can pass through, but is restricted.

Transaerodynamic- The ability for air to pass through a material.

Aerolucent - Air can partially pass through, but not completely.

Aerolucid - Air can pass through with no restriction.

I just made these up.

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Well, every single word we use today was at some point or another made up; I for one support this endeavor. –  IQAndreas Dec 27 '13 at 3:02
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-lucent and -lucid of course take us from air to light (lux) again, which is misleading –  Hagen von Eitzen Dec 27 '13 at 11:34
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Plus, if we're going to be pedantic (which is kinda the whole point of this site), aero is a Greek root, not Latin. –  terdon Dec 27 '13 at 14:08
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Aeropermeable is a decent word. The rest are Portminotaurs - A word I just made up. It's when you try to make a Portmanteau, but wind up with a monster! –  David M Dec 27 '13 at 20:23
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If you were going with Greek, you'd go with diapneumatic, which is parallel to diaphanous. –  Ollie Jones Dec 27 '13 at 22:38

For example, to describe a fabric as one that air can pass through, you can use "breathability".

Quoting from wikipedia: Breathability is the ability of a fabric to allow moisture vapor to be transmitted through the material.

Air Permeability is the ability of a fabric to allow air to pass through it. While Air Permeable fabrics tend to have relatively high moisture vapor transmission, it is not necessary to be Air Permeable to be breathable.

Hope this helps one way or another.

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Depending on the context, it's useful to refer to the property of allowing air through in the negative: not airtight. For example, you wouldn't refer to a drafty door as permeable or breathable, but not airtight accurately describes the fault with the door.

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Is there such an expression as "air loose"? –  alexandroid Dec 28 '13 at 1:24
    
No, but you can say that a door or window is leaky. –  longneck Dec 28 '13 at 1:26

You may find the adjective perforated useful, because perforation usually refers specifically to one or many holes in a surface allowing something (often fluid or gaseous material) to pass through.

If someone were to mention a perforated screen door then I would immediately know what they’re referring to. Membranes can be perforated; surfaces of natural things like shells can be perforated.

I think I once read a quote from a philosopher describing the universe itself as perforated with regard to the divine. Found it!

As every pool reflects the image of the sun, so every thought and thing restores us an image and creature of the supreme Good. The universe is perforated by a million channels for his activity.
                                                                                                                                                                     — R.W. Emerson

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The best general-purpose adjective for objects that freely allow gases to penetrate them would be perforated. Depending on what audience or what specific fabric, other words may fit the bill, but to me the natural state of fabric is that gas is expected to pass through them unless they are windproof. Technical fabrics are also classified based on porosity and air-permeability, especially for sailcloth, sail laminates and parachute fabric where their design depends upon them passing strict amounts of air for proper function. –  bmike Dec 26 '13 at 23:21
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If someone were to mention a perforated screen door... Once you say screen door perhaps it would not be necessary to specifically say perforated, as screen door by definition should have holes to let light and air through shouldn't it? –  user13267 Dec 27 '13 at 4:33
    
Well not necessarily, though I suspect that likely depends on what part of the English speaking world you're in. I think these types of things generally have specific/localised names. A mesh screen designed to shield an interior space from insects for example would be really common in Australia but far less important somewhere else. I live in Scandinavia and I've never seen anything remotely like a perforated screen door here. On the other hand, a similar door intended to improve security, to me, cannot seriously be referred to as permeable or perforated. It just doesn't come out right. –  Chaos Dec 27 '13 at 4:49

adjective would be used to describe a screen door, or certain types of fabric

As many have already stated, breathable is the correct term for fabric.

However, I don’t believe there would be any particular term to describe that quality in a screen door, considering that screen door itself already implies that air passes through said door.

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Despite my voting for the word vented. I will say that breathable works here, too. You could easily refer to a screen door as a breathable metal mesh. –  David M Dec 27 '13 at 20:09
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@DavidM you could but no one does. :) –  DA. Dec 27 '13 at 21:32
    
It's one my many talents! –  David M Dec 27 '13 at 22:14

air-permeable

seems to be used in some kinds of technical texts since the 1940s

permeable, already in Webster 1828

PER''MEABLE, a. [L.permeo; per and meo, to pass or glide.] That may be passed through without rupture or displacement of its parts, as solid matter; applied particularly to substances that admit the passage of fluids. Thus cloth, leather, wood are permeable to water and oil; glass is permeable to light, but not to water. Webster 1828

an early example of permeable relating to air:

"...what will be the utility of arrangements by which the mere joints may be made tight, when the material itself if porous, and (by air) permeable as brick is?"
-John Vallance, Considerations on the Expedience of Sinking Capital in Railways 1825

Examples of air-permeable

"A face liner for concrete comprises wood pulp with a water-absorptive, air-permeable surface substantially nonadherent to concrete on one side of the sheet."
-Paper Trade Journal 1943

"The taller the roughness elements of the ground, or the taller and less air-permeable the vegetative cover, the higher level at which zero velocity is found."
-WS Chepil & NP Woodruff - The Physics of Wind Erosion and its Control 1963

"Interior ribs are made of a higher air-permeable fabric (MIL-C-7020, Type I) for cross-cell venting."
-Dan Poynter, The Parachute Manual: A Technical Treatise on Aerodynamic Decelerators 1984

"Conversely, water vapour and air permeable fabrics do not readily provide barriers to chemical warfare agents. Air-permeable fabrics which are ideal in hot tropical climates, allow biting insects such as mosquitos to penetrate the fabrics." Richard A. Scott, Textiles in Defence 2000

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Permeable implies that fluids (scientifically gases are fluids) can diffuse through a barrier. In other words, there is a resistance to the free-flow of that fluid.

The property of allowing air to pass through a fabric mesh is Breathable. It can also be used for a screen door, as that is nothing more than a mesh made of metal.

The word you want to describe composition of the fabric or screen itself is Vented. This means that something allows the free flow of air through holes in it.

I would also put in a vote for the word Mesh. A mesh is a breathable fabric, if you are seeking a word that both describes the fabric and the act of moving air through it.

The word ventilated is not correct, as this means that something which is vented has had airflow applied to it. (I'm an anesthesiologist, the word ventilated comes up A LOT!)

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Permeable means that some type of matter (gases are fluids: search "state of matter") can pass through a barrier. In practice, a noticeable restriction is encountered. The word you want is "vented". One of its meanings is, that something allows the largely unrestricted flow of air to pass through it. (the root of "vent" is ventus; Latin for wind) Ventilated is not correct; its use would be a multi-syllabic redundancy to vented (I'm an aircraft mechanic; and though indistinct to the untrained, the word "ventilated" is grunted a LOT among my fellow mechs., I believe... but, it is hard to tell). –  user60703 Dec 27 '13 at 17:58

respirant

Present participle of "respirar" in French and Catalan. Also saying "they actually breathe" in Let in. Pretty nifty? I like that it gives some counter weight to perspirant.

Ethereal could work.

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I thought of ethereal too, was wondering if someone would post it. +1 –  Thomas Dec 28 '13 at 12:47

Transpirable

Which means that it allows the passing of a fluid or gas.
Breathable is not a technical word, but it depends how technical you want to make your product information for customers.

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Welcome to EL&U. :-) –  medica Dec 27 '13 at 0:24
    
By the Wiktionary definition, transpiring seems to involve sourcing of the fluid or gas as opposed to simply passing it from one side to another of the material in question. You may transpire sweat, but certainly your clothing does not. At least until your clothes are wet and removed and then I would say that they are transpiring the sweat. –  altendky Dec 27 '13 at 13:13

AIR-LOOSE.

for it is something that is not air-tight.

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Sounds more like a bad pun than an actual word. –  IQAndreas Dec 27 '13 at 6:31
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Why bad, it's surely a good joke. Mods will convert it into a comment, though. lol. –  Kris Dec 27 '13 at 6:41
    
This logic is sound –  DA. Dec 27 '13 at 21:33

Aerated is close, but generally means open and exposed to the air, including being surrounded by air and to an extent passing through.

It would depend on the context but provided the subject is capable of providing passage for air it would be correct.

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I'd say that common usage for 'Aerated' implies 'containing air', particularly of liquids: Aerated water is bubbly (even though that's actually carbonation with CO2, not air), and aerated cement has bubbles formed in it while liquid. I wouldn't use aerated about fabric, though. –  Beejamin Dec 27 '13 at 1:09

I think English speakers generally use the term non-airtight.

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One that that no one has mentioned so far is the adjective aspiratory, which means "pertaining to or suited for aspiration".

It would be suitable because one of the meanings of aspiration is "the act of breathing".

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Aspiration is sucking in. Not technically breathing. (Dictionaries have errors, too . . .) The act of breathing involves aspiration (or more correctly inspiration), which is an active process of sucking in air. Certainly would not apply to a fabric in this case. –  David M Dec 27 '13 at 20:01
    
@David M: I just found two other dictionaries, one of which is the OED, that say it's the action of breathing, so perhaps you're the one in the wrong. They both also said it can also mean the removal or transfer of fluids (which would include both gases and liquids) which would be more like "sucking out". –  martineau Dec 27 '13 at 21:09
    
Again. It is the action of "drawing breath" per the dictionaries I just looked up. Aspiration is an ACTIVE process. The usage the OP wants is a passive process. BTW - I am an anesthesiologist. Breathing is my stock and trade. –  David M Dec 27 '13 at 21:15

In reviewing the question and since my occupation involves HVAC technology I began with the word "diffuser"; then ventilation; and finally (filtrate or filtration) seemed to answer the question from my point of view and or experience.

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