del·​i·​cate | \ˈde-li-kət \

Definition of delicate 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : pleasing to the senses:

a : generally pleasant the climate's delicate, the air most sweet— William Shakespeare

b : pleasing to the sense of taste or smell especially in a mild or subtle way a delicate aroma a robust wine will dominate delicate dishes

c : marked by daintiness or charm of color, lines, or proportions a delicate floral print an ample tear trilled down her delicate cheek— William Shakespeare

d : marked by fineness of structure, workmanship, or texture a delicate tracery a delicate lace

2a : marked by keen sensitivity or fine discrimination delicate insights a more delicate syntactic analysis— R. H. Robins

b : fastidious, squeamish a person of delicate tastes

3a : not robust in health or constitution : weak, sickly had been considered a delicate child

b : easily torn or damaged : fragile delicate wine glasses a delicate flower the delicate chain of life

4a : requiring careful handling:

(1) : easily unsettled or upset a delicate balance the delicate relationships defined by the ConstitutionNew Yorker

(2) : requiring skill or tact in a delicate position delicate negotiations a delicate operation

(3) : involving matters of a deeply personal nature : sensitive this is a delicate matter. Could I possibly speak to you alone— Daphne Du Maurier

b : marked by care, skill, or tact her delicate handling of a difficult situation

5 : marked by great precision or sensitivity a delicate instrument



Definition of delicate (Entry 2 of 2)

: something delicate washing delicates by hand

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Other Words from delicate


delicately adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for delicate


choice, exquisite, elegant, rare, delicate, dainty mean having qualities that appeal to a cultivated taste. choice stresses preeminence in quality or kind. choice fabric exquisite implies a perfection in workmanship or design that appeals only to very sensitive taste. an exquisite gold bracelet elegant applies to what is rich and luxurious but restrained by good taste. a sumptuous but elegant dining room rare suggests an uncommon excellence. rare beauty delicate implies exquisiteness, subtlety, and fragility. delicate craftsmanship dainty sometimes carries an additional suggestion of smallness and of appeal to the eye or palate. dainty sandwiches

Examples of delicate in a Sentence


He has a delicate stomach and often gets sick when traveling. The fabric has a delicate floral print. We hung delicate lace curtains in the windows. The tomb was adorned with delicate carvings. the delicate flavor of the wine
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

But the council is now considering another round of hikes at a particularly delicate time, with Seattle residents under pressure from taxes and housing costs that have climbed and with Durkan searching for a permanent new City Light general manager. Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times, "‘Alarm bell’ over City Light spending as Seattle council considers rate increases," 9 July 2018 The agreement highlights Mr Putin’s delicate balancing act in the Middle East. The Economist, "Russia struggles to balance between Israel and Iran," 31 May 2018 In fact, Brexit is a hugely delicate diplomatic process. Dan Stewart, Time, "The 3 Big Takeaways from Donald Trump's Controversial Interview with The Sun," 13 July 2018 Building such centers outside the continent will require delicate negotiations with African countries, which so far have signaled no interest in hosting such facilities. Washington Post, "E.U. leaders agree on the outline of a migration deal," 29 June 2018 And the subsequent settlement involved years of delicate negotiations and became a model for global cooperation, not confrontation. James B. Stewart, New York Times, "What Trump Should Learn From the ‘Banana War’," 22 June 2018 Such a delicate ecosystem, so precisely calibrated, in the end destroyed by Jude’s careful parceling of love, of land. Mark Athitakis,, "A sensational ill wind blows through Lauren Groff's short story collection, 'Florida'," 8 June 2018 Sadr is engaged in delicate political negotiations with other factions and the outcome of those talks, which could take months, will determine the future of American influence in Iraq. Jim Michaels, USA TODAY, "Former U.S. enemy in Iraq is now potential ally against Iran," 24 May 2018 After 11 months of delicate negotiations, the seamen were freed that December. Brandon Griggs, CNN, "The most turbulent time in modern American history (it's not now)," 18 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The handful of delicates worn before the festivities begin—silk robes, chemises, camis, and so forth—also fall into this category. Glamour, "How to Shop for Bridal Lingerie That Feels Cool, Not Corny," 29 June 2018 While sporting lacy delicates won't stop you from getting a great workout, they're definitely not designed for that kind of physical activity. Melanie Yates, Woman's Day, "The Best Underwear For Your Workout," 11 Feb. 2015 The delicates collection, which ranges in price from $13 to $36, comes in sizes XS to XL for bottoms and 32A to 36D for bras. Rachel Torgerson, Cosmopolitan, "J. Crew Has Adorable Lingerie Now, FYI," 28 Feb. 2018 However, be aware that plastic restricts airflow, making it a bad choice for delicates, vintage pieces, or heirlooms. Jolie Kerr, Esquire, "This Is the Right Way to Store Your Clothes," 14 Oct. 2016 While sporting lacy delicates won't stop you from getting a great workout, they're definitely not designed for that kind of physical activity. Melanie Yates, Redbook, "The Best Underwear For Your Workout," 12 Feb. 2015 Made to fit dames of all sizes, Trashy Diva also offers lingerie, corsets and other delicates at its sister shop behind Jackson Square. Grace Wilson,, "The locals' guide to French Quarter shopping for jewelry, gifts, clothing, antiques," 1 Aug. 2017 Delicate beading covers the sleeves and the bodice, while scalloped beading dramatically drapes down over the skirt. Lauren Smith, House Beautiful, "This Indonesian Bride's Dress Is Even More Stunning Than Cinderella's," 6 Apr. 2017 Protect your delicates from the rest of the items in your bag by tucking them inside the little cloth bag that comes with a new pair of shoes or a new handbag. Brooke Shunatona, Cosmopolitan, "20 Genius Space-Saving Hacks for Packing Your Suitcase," 8 July 2014

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'delicate.' 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 delicate


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for delicate


Middle English delicat, from Latin delicatus given to self-indulgence, fastidious, subtly pleasing, not robust; akin to Latin delicere to allure


see delicate entry 1

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Statistics for delicate

Last Updated

9 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for delicate

The first known use of delicate was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for delicate



English Language Learners Definition of delicate

: easily broken or damaged

: easily injured, hurt, or made sick

: attractive and made up of small or fine parts


del·​i·​cate | \ˈde-li-kət \

Kids Definition of delicate

1 : pleasing because of fineness or mildness a delicate flavor

2 : able to sense very small differences a delicate instrument

3 : calling for skill and careful treatment a delicate operation

4 : easily damaged delicate flowers

5 : sickly sense 1 a delicate child

6 : requiring tact a delicate subject

Other Words from delicate

delicately adverb

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More from Merriam-Webster on delicate

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for delicate

Spanish Central: Translation of delicate

Nglish: Translation of delicate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of delicate for Arabic Speakers

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