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I'm looking for a word to describe something that can be physically passed through like a ghost, mist, or a gas. Initially, I was thinking of the work transparent, but I feel like this is better used to describe something that is see through.

  • There are a lot of answers that say stuff like intangible or immaterial. Doesn't those mean it can't be touched? Is it what you're locking for? – Adamawesome4 Nov 17 '16 at 0:54
  • in game secondlife.com such objects have phantom set to true – aeroson Nov 17 '16 at 9:43
  • Presumably liquids would also fall into this category. Its not a single word, but the best term I can think of is "not solid". – Paul Johnson Nov 19 '16 at 10:33

10 Answers 10

49

Borrowing from Carl Sagan's The Dragon in My Garage, which suggests this word for specters:

incorporeal - having no physical body or form

(Definition from Merriam-Webster.)

I have to take issue with permeable. A sieve is permeable, a sponge is permeable, but unless you're a molecule or a virus or something similarly small you can't pass through.

  • 6
    In technical writing, permeable is often modified to indicate what can/can't get through. The difference between a sponge and a sieve is one of degree, not kind... – John Feltz Nov 16 '16 at 3:36
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    Technically, I agree with you, but it's not to easy to imagine a person passing through an ordinary sponge or sieve. Perhaps in sci-fi, where people have been miniaturized. – Richard Kayser Nov 16 '16 at 5:23
  • +1 Much better. Ghosts are not sieves. – DCShannon Nov 17 '16 at 0:44
  • Captures the essence of the matter in question. :-) – Richard Kayser Nov 17 '16 at 13:12
  • A sieve is not permeable to people, so permeable is still the perfect match to the title of the question, though incorporeal matches some other qualities the body of the question details. – Jon Hanna Nov 18 '16 at 17:09
36

How about ethereal or penetrable?

M-W:

ethereal: lacking material substance

penetrable: allowing someone or something to pass through or enter : able to be penetrated

It's not hard to imagine passing through anything ethereal.

It would not be unreasonable to consider a ghost, gas, or mist penetrable, in fact infinitely so.

Note: @Drew mentioned penetrable in a comment.

  • +1, but would also add 'intangible', 'insubstantial', and/or 'impalpable', since they don't mean that there is no physical matter, just that solid objects can't interact physically with that matter in any significant way. Would remove 'ethereal' and avoid 'incorporeal', 'unsubstantial', and 'immaterial', since those imply the absence of physical matter - which works for ghost but not mist or gases. – Jeutnarg Nov 16 '16 at 18:22
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    +1 for ethereal, since it seems to come up often in descriptions of ghosts. – Ghotir Nov 16 '16 at 19:29
31

The word you're looking for is permeable.

Ghosts are permeable, a gauze curtain is permeable, a cloud is permeable.

Permeable

allowing liquids or gases to pass through

  • 2
    That's the answer. In addition, something penetrable can be passed into (but not necessarily passed through). – Drew Nov 16 '16 at 3:23
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    Good to know that ghosts are permeable. Do they have a pore size? Other properties of permeable materials? Tortuosity, perhaps? – Richard Kayser Nov 16 '16 at 5:35
  • That would have been my answer too. +1. @RichardKayser, lol. – alwayslearning Nov 16 '16 at 5:50
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    It seems to me that the OP is looking for a word to describe the characteristic of ghosts, gases, and mists that allows objects to pass through them, not the property of materials that allow ghosts, gases, and mists, or liquids, to pass through them. Permeable is perfect for the latter, wrong for the former. Perhaps the OP can weigh in. – Richard Kayser Nov 16 '16 at 13:24
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    -1, Something that is permeable can be passed through because there are (possibly tiny) holes, not because the matter doesn't stop movement. This seems completely wrong for a ghost.This describes a strainer or cheesecloth. The definition you linked specifically says "having pores or openings that permit liquids or gases to pass through" – DCShannon Nov 17 '16 at 0:44
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Permeable is a good word. But if you're looking for variety, I'd suggest intangible. In comics, some suprheroes(e.g. Martian Manhunter) have this super-power where objects and people can pass though them as if they don't exist, helping them to dodge bullets etc. It's referred to as Intangibility.

intangible
ɪnˈtan(d)ʒɪb(ə)l/ adjective

1.
unable to be touched; not having physical presence.
"the moonlight made things seem intangible"

If the context is ghosts or other spiritual entities, you can also use words like spectral or incorporeal to convey the same meaning.

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    +1, despite saying permeable is good. Intangible is absolutely the right word for this. Came to this page to post that as an answer. – DCShannon Nov 17 '16 at 0:45
  • I don't think permeable is a good fit, but intangible is the right word. Here's a link to TVTropes that shows it's used that way in fiction: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Intangibility – WithScience Nov 17 '16 at 20:41
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To expand on @stevesliva answer:

Immaterial - TFD

  1. Having no material body or form.
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    Immaterial is a good fit to the request but it's perhaps more commonly used in the sense of definition 1 from your link: Of no importance or relevance; inconsequential or irrelevant. If you're going to use this word you need to make sure the context makes clear which sense you mean. – nekomatic Nov 17 '16 at 9:07
8

As an IT guy, I feel compelled to add traversable

capable of being traversed

traverse: a. To travel or pass across, over, or through: a ship traversing a channel; light traversing a window.

Traversing is more broad than "passing through". Even if maybe it's not the exact meaning you are looking for, sometimes it can be the most appropiate word.

  • I was going to suggest transitable but this is much better. I think it it what I was looking for. – joeytwiddle Nov 17 '16 at 6:58
5

A book I enjoyed years ago called Calling on Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, described a character that became "insubstantial", fitting your desired description exactly.

a : lacking substance or material nature - Merriam-Webster

1

fluid: it means gas or liquid.

"a substance that has no fixed shape and yields easily to external pressure; a gas or (especially) a liquid."

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fluid

  • Hey downvoter, please give some reasoning. – David Taylor Nov 17 '16 at 5:49
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    Not my downvote, but a ghost is not a fluid. The OP wants a term that applies to a weird mix of stuff. – Peter Cordes Nov 18 '16 at 11:26
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One other way you can reference such an object is as "medium":

The intervening substance through which sensory impressions are conveyed or physical forces are transmitted

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/medium

  • While true that most intangible things are mediums (as air is a medium for sound and even the void is a medium for light), not every medium is intangible (a copper wire is very much tangible, and as your own definition states, a wall is a medium for the force of a wrecking ball) and accidentally being a medium for some sensory impression is not what defines a ghost's insubstantiality. – Zachiel Nov 19 '16 at 15:35
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You could use the word transpirable

This is defined by Dictionary.com as:

To emit or give off waste matter, watery vapor, etc., through the surface, as of the body or of leaves.

OR

To escape, as moisture or odor (or "gas"), through or as if through pores.

Alternatively, you could use respirable (regarding ghosts or mists), as defined by the Merriam-Webster:

Fit for breathing; also: capable of being taken in by breathing.

Hope this helps :)

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