nuance

noun
nu·​ance | \ ˈnü-ˌän(t)s How to pronounce nuance (audio) , ˈnyü-, -ˌäⁿs; nü-ˈän(t)s, nyü-, -ˈäⁿs\

Definition of nuance

1 : a subtle distinction or variation Nuances of flavor and fragrance cannot be described accurately …— Scott Seegers … these terms have certain nuances of meaning …— Ben F. Nelms
2 : a subtle quality : nicety … the nuances of an individual's voice …— Michael Swaine
3 : sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value) … a performance of remarkable pliability and nuance.— Irvine Kolodin

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Other Words from nuance

nuanced \ ˈnü-​ˌän(t)st How to pronounce nuanced (audio) , ˈnyü-​ ; nü-​ˈän(t)st , nyü-​ \ adjective

Nuance: So Subtle You Might Miss It

Although nuance is defined as "a subtle distinction or variation," the adjective subtle is frequently seen modifying the noun:

Ms. Fyfield is remarkably thorough in her psychological profiles, giving subtle nuances to characters who are mere passers-by in this psychodrama.
Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review, 27 Aug. 1989

Still, the beloved diva sustained exquisite control of her vast vocal resources, enriching line after line with gleaming tone and subtle nuance.
Martin Bernheimer, The Financial Times, 15 Nov. 2016

Since the definition of nuance already connotes subtlety—we don't speak of blatant or obvious nuances—some might regard the use of subtle as a modifier here to be redundant. But the fact of its frequent use is an indication that the connotation of subtlety in nuance might itself be too subtle to be picked up by many English speakers.

Did You Know?

The history of "nuance" starts in Latin with the noun nubes, meaning "cloud." "Nubes" floated into Middle French as nue, also meaning "cloud," and "nue" gave rise to nuer, meaning "to make shades of color." "Nuer" in turn produced "nuance," which in Middle French meant shade of color. English borrowed "nuance" from French, with the meaning "a subtle distinction or variation," in the late 18th century. That use persists today. Additionally, "nuance" is sometimes used in a specific musical sense, designating a subtle, expressive variation in a musical performance (such as in tempo, dynamic intensity, or timbre) that is not indicated in the score.

Examples of nuance in a Sentence

Between the lines of lexicographical nuance and quotation, Johnson was paying old debts and seeking out wisdom about himself and his adopted city, as well as compiling perhaps the greatest commonplace book in the history of mankind. — Andrew O'Hagan, New York Review, 27 Apr. 2006 In every silky statement from General Musharraf about the need for a short—in other words: limited—war, and in every nuance of the Pakistani official posture, I was sure I detected the local version of Schadenfreude. — Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, January 2002 To La Farge, eccentricity meant convention; a mind really eccentric never betrayed it. True eccentricity was a tone—a shade—a nuance—and the finer the tone, the truer the eccentricity. — Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907 He listened to the subtle nuances in the song. a poem of little depth and nuance
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Recent Examples on the Web

And with each go-round — Michael Tilson Thomas led the piece just five years ago — Prokofiev’s mastery of orchestral texture, of dramatic flow and of symphonic nuance becomes ever more apparent. Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, "San Francisco Symphony does right by little-known Prokofiev," 4 May 2018 This was way more complex and had so much nuance to it, even in the first few scenes. Jasmin Hernandez, Harper's BAZAAR, "Nomi Ruiz on Making Art That Means Something," 17 Jan. 2019 Outreach to these and other 30-and-younger operatives who are fresh off the midterms and familiar with the caucuses’ nuances suggests those who know the players and the game have the edge. Thomas Beaumont, The Seattle Times, "2020 Democratic contenders already eyeing top staff in Iowa," 21 Nov. 2018 This series isn't exactly known for its, uh, depth, nuance, or respectful depiction of traumatic events. Amanda Mitchell, Marie Claire, "Caelynn Sharing Her Story on the 'Bachelor' Is a Turning Point For the Series," 29 Jan. 2019 Tonight’s episode explores some of the darkest material ever depicted on the show, but Balfe has always elevated material that could sink into soap opera territory, bringing depth, nuance, and gravitas to every scene. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "Caitriona Balfe Is Evolving with Outlander," 31 Dec. 2018 Over the years, the sound he’s put forth has changed, found nuance, and simmered down from raw sawtooth waves and thick kick drums. Dani Deahl, The Verge, "What’s In Your Bag, R3hab?," 5 Oct. 2018 Generally speaking, Lafite takes about 25 years to blossom in a strong vintage; the 1999, from a less powerful year, is just starting to develop secondary nuances, the herbal and savory notes that make mature Lafite so compelling. Jay Mcinerney, Town & Country, "A New Era Begins at Château Lafite as Baron de Rothschild Hands Leadership Over to His Daughter," 13 Aug. 2018 As usual with such play, numbers matter less than nuance, such as passing the eye test. K.c. Johnson, chicagotribune.com, "As Bulls' summer league concludes, GM Gar Forman addresses play of 1st-round picks," 14 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nuance.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of nuance

1781, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for nuance

French, from Middle French, shade of color, from nuer to make shades of color, from nue cloud, from Latin nubes; perhaps akin to Welsh nudd mist

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More Definitions for nuance

nuance

noun

English Language Learners Definition of nuance

: a very small difference in color, tone, meaning, etc.

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More from Merriam-Webster on nuance

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with nuance

Spanish Central: Translation of nuance

Nglish: Translation of nuance for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nuance for Arabic Speakers

Comments on nuance

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