Bigger than microscopic but too small to be practically called visible

Examples might include things like daphnia, small mites, bedbugs, sea monkeys etc.

Essentially a word that describes something that appears as a more or less indiscernible speck to the naked eye but can be observed properly with a microscope or possibly even a magnifying glass.

  • 1
    How about "tiny"? – Hot Licks May 2 '20 at 15:33
  • 1
    "Minute." (pron. "my newt.") – Greybeard May 2 '20 at 15:44
  • I suggest there could never be such a term. Whatever your dictionary says, the actual meaning of "microscopic" is too small to seen by the naked eye. The real Question here is what you might mean by "technically visible but unidentifiable to the naked eye". I suggest English has no words or phrases for such a thing - not even the "tiny" or "minute" suggested above. Can you say how or why this mattes? What would you such a term? – Robbie Goodwin May 2 '20 at 20:19
  • The term is meant to refer to a very specific size range, and to differentiate things of that size from things that are truly microscopic, or invisible without magnification. The term wouldn't really come up in general use. It would primarily be used in science, and particularly in biology. Unresolvable was suggested below, and seems to match the definition I'm looking for. – Wabi Sabi May 10 '20 at 4:04

How about unresolvable (or non-resolvable), derivatives of resolution? From Cambridge:

resolution: the ability of a microscope, or a television or computer screen, to show things clearly and with a lot of detail

Physical scientists apply this word to imaging instruments/devices/techniques, including the human eye, microscopes, magnifying glasses, telescopes, etc., that cover length scales from the smallest (e.g., scanning tunneling microscopes) to the largest (e.g., giant telescopes). They often speak of the ability of a given technique to resolve features at a given scale, or, similarly, of features at a given scale to be resolvable -- or not, i.e., unresolvable or non-resolvable, beyond the resolution of the given instrument/device/technique.


The mites that cause sarcoptic mange are beyond the resolution of the human eye.

The human eye is not capable of resolving the mites that cause sarcoptic mange.

Are the mites that cause sarcoptic mange resolvable by the human eye? No, they are unresolvable (or non-resolvable).

You will not find these senses in English language dictionaries.

  • I believe this is the term I was searching for. I know that I learned the term in my introduction biology class because it was used specifically to refer to things like the examples I listed. Thank you. – Wabi Sabi May 10 '20 at 3:59
  • My pleasure. Glad I could help resolve the issue. I won't object if you accept it as your answer. :-) – Richard Kayser May 10 '20 at 15:07

Mote. From Merriam Webster: a small particle (as of floating dust) : speck


We do use the adjective "microscopic" figuratively for something very small but still visible to naked eye, or to describe something as "detailed" and meticulous" TFD

  • She posed in a microscopic bikini (tiny)
  • ...to offer a microscopic understanding of the various... (detailed)

You can also use "minute" (pronounced \mī-ˈnüt)

  • (adjective) very small : infinitesimal.

Or, if you're looking for a less formal word, "tiny" is a good fit.

A slang phrase, somewhat outdated, "a teeny itsy-bitsy"

She has been working out to regain her modelling credentials and just four weeks after giving birth revealed her washboard stomach in a teeny itsy-bitsy string bikini. Daily Mail Online


I suggest infinitesimal.

Infinitesimal (adj): Something that is infinitesimal is extremely small [formal].

Pronunciation: /ˌɪn.fɪ.nɪˈtes.ɪ.məl/

Example: Mineral substances present in infinitesimal amounts in the soil.

(Collins Cobuild)

Or diminutive.

Diminutive: A diminutive person or object is very small.

(Collins Cobuild)

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