Say there’s an embossed star in a wall (a). If the star’s surface is closer to the viewer than the wall’s surface (b), you can say the star is protruding. Similarly, if the star’s surface is farther from the viewer than the wall’s surface (c), you can say the star is ____.

enter image description here

Looking for antonyms of “protrude” hasn’t been much helpful.

Here's a sentence showing how it would be used:

The position of the light source and the shade it casts is what determines in most cases if the star is perceived as protruding or as ______.

The closest I got is "carved in the wall", but that's not quite it. Also, the etymological opposite of protrude seems to be intrude, but I don't think "the star is intruding" makes sense.

I’m looking for a verb, but adjectives or adverbs would be appreciated too, as long as I can rephrase the sentence so it conveys the meaning I’m after.

  • 8
    I would use "recede".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 14:54
  • 1
    @HotLicks - I thought about recede, but when I looked it up I found that no dictionary defined it like this. Peculiar.
    – Charon
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 14:57
  • I would find it quite natural to say "The star recedes into the wall."
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 15:06
  • You use "embossed" in your question. Any reason you can't use that? Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 10:39
  • @Boluc I wanted something to specifically say the star was receding –just like protrude does–, not merely in relief. I thought "embossed" could be used to describe both the product of a rilievo and that of an intaglio, but as some explained "debossed" specifies a bas-relief and "embossed" a relief. Sure I could use "debossed", but the options I got sound better to me.
    – Yay
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 22:09

10 Answers 10


Consider recessed:

To create or fashion a recess in (TFD)

A recess is defined:

An indentation or small hollow (TFD)

  • 5
    "Relief printing is a process where protruding surface faces of the printing plate or block are inked; recessed areas are ink free."
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 20:36

You could go with indented.

Indent: make a dent or impression in (something).

Alternatively, you could go with the more technical terms, embossed and debossed

Deboss: stamp (a design) into the surface of an object so that it is indented.

Both definitions from OED

  • +1 for debossed (a new one to me). If it's embossed, it protrudes.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 20:39
  • emboss was the term I thought about - but I guess deboss is more accurate Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 19:26

I think of the verb sink or the adjective sunken.

Definition of sunken:

At a lower level than the surrounding area.


While the auditorium's revolving stage remained, the portal arch was transformed into arched bridges to sunken, unroofed parking areas.


depressed, deep-set, concave, indented, recessed

(Oxford Dictionaries Online: sunken)

  • 1
    I'd go with sunk: "sunk into the wall". Sunken in the wall sounds... lowbrow - for lack of a better term.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 22:15

I have a strange answer: impress.

In the world of architectural design, I've learned the word "extrude" for 'pulling' a subset of a face out, embossing that subset. I think of that as the opposite of engrave.

Of course, metaphorically, to leave an impression on someone means to make a mark on them. Accordingly: I really like the extrude/impress dichotomy.

Similarly, protrude and indent are conceptual antonyms. Although if you want to conform to conventional usage, these particular options might not be properly understood.


It works better (in my opinion) for text than for the star example, but you could say it had been engraved into the wall.

engrave: to chase (letters, designs, etc.) on a hard surface, as of metal, stone, or the end grain of wood

I would have said there was another option: "etched"; but apparently that only applies if chemicals are used for the cutting, rather than an implement.

etch: to cut, bite, or corrode with an acid or the like; engrave with an acid or the like


The most natural word to complete your sentence would be:

The position of the light source and the shade it casts is what determines in most cases if the star is perceived as protruding or as receding.


Another option would be to say that the star is "depressed" into the wall.

  • This answer was already given by Kyle in his synonyms section.
    – user116295
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 17:25
  • So were other answers that have been offered.
    – Bardicer
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 20:06

Consider Intaglio that refers to techniques in art in which an image is created by cutting, carving or engraving into a flat surface and may also refer to objects made using these technique.

Example : enter image description here

Figure b illustrates a "bas-relief" and the star in figure c, that was "incised in intaglio", is now "displayed in intaglio".

EDIT: @hugh - After reading the comments, I realized that you already proposed this word. I will delete this answer, if you create one.


Concave might be the word you are looking for

  • 4
    The word concave (and its opposite convex) require a curved transition between the two planes of the object. The illustrations in the Question show a very squared (90 degree) transition between the planes. dictionary.reference.com/browse/concave
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 21:29
  • 3
    Please explain your answer in full. Why might concave be what they are looking for? Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 10:18

I think incised would also be an option.

  • Please give a full answer explaining why. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 11:08

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