Simple Definition of subtle
: hard to notice or see : not obvious
: clever and indirect : not showing your real purpose
: having or showing skill at recognizing and understanding things that are not obvious
Full Definition of subtle
5 : operating insidiously <subtle poisons>
Examples of subtle
Although artists and patrons in Venice still sought images of ideal figures, they insisted that this imagery be rooted in a more subtle and insightful interpretation of human life and character. —Andrew Butterfield, New York Review of Books, 16 July 2009
These days, some of the most exciting cooking with brown rice is taking place in Japan, where purveyors are beginning to embrace the subtle variations that can be achieved through custom-milling and cooks are repurposing traditional techniques and dishes to accommodate the food's flavors and textures. —Karen Shimizu, Saveur, May 2008
The language of the face communicates maximum information through the subtlest inflections. The interfaces of our souls are designed to be read in a heartbeat. —Steve Silberman, Wired, May 2003
a subtle difference in meaning between the words
Racial discrimination still exists, only now it's subtler than it once was.
When it comes to giving criticism, sometimes it's best to take a subtle approach.
He didn't seem to understand my subtle hints.
It was her subtle way of telling me to mind my own business.
She has a subtle mind.
Origin of subtle
Middle English sotil, subtile, from Anglo-French, from Latin subtilis, literally, finely textured, from sub- + tela cloth on a loom; akin to Latin texere to weave — more at technical
First Known Use: 14th century
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up subtle? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).