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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

And Laurence Fishburne gets to play something that’s fairly rare in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a character with a little nuance in his motives and moral values. Tasha Robinson, The Verge, "Ant-Man and the Wasp is a solid improvement on Ant-Man," 6 July 2018 Though applications like Google Translate are common and instantaneous tools for translating, Gabantxo says literary translation is an art with nuance and context that a computer cannot produce. Savannah Eadens, chicagotribune.com, "Translators' group brings international literature to Chicago," 27 June 2018 But unlike the anthropological lens of Ms. Livingston, which some have called exploitative, Mr. Bratton’s series offers an insider’s view on the sociopolitical nuances of today’s scene. Alex Hawgood, New York Times, "Category Is … Filmmaker Realness," 26 June 2018 The brilliant cellist Johannes Moser delivered the solo part with exquisite nuance of tone and phrase. Tim Smith, baltimoresun.com, "John Williams makes electrifying return to BSO, shares podium with Marin Alsop," 14 June 2018 In the Hulu drama’s first season, Commander Waterford’s wife, played with exceptional nuance by Yvonne Strahovski, displayed glimmers of humanity—but none that overshadowed her overt villainy. Laura Bradley, HWD, "Has Serena Joy Become The Handmaid’s Tale’s Most Poignant Character?," 13 June 2018 Which is notable, given that the movie is directed by Jim Loach, son of Ken, who’s made a career of movies in the U.K. that examine the working class with great nuance and empathy. Gary Thompson, Philly.com, "Coming-of-age drama 'Measure of a Man' comes up short | Movie review," 10 May 2018 The exact nuances and minutia of Spears' conservatorship aren't widely available, but the fact that Jamie is her conservator—and has been for over a decade—is common knowledge. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "Here's Why Britney Spears Fans Are Posting #FreeBritney All Over Social Media," 23 Apr. 2019 But the nuance of socioeconomics can’t hold a candle to the terror of morbidity. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Why Is There a ‘Gaming Disorder’ But No ‘Smartphone Disorder?’," 28 June 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for nuance

nuance

noun

English Language Learners Definition of nuance

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

What made you want to look up nuance? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

one that collects or salvages junk

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Time Traveler Quiz: Which Word Came First?

  • time traveler quiz which word came first
  • Which came first?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Citation

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!