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

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.

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.

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
Recent Examples on the Web In Silent Invasion, Deborah Birx offers more detail and nuance than anyone else. Richard J. Tofel, The Atlantic, 13 May 2022 Alex wanted to play this part with such care and nuance. Sydney Bucksbaum, EW.com, 7 May 2022 Items are not necessarily relegated to display cases, but can reconnect with the artists, elders and knowledge-bearers who might better explain their histories and nuance. Zachariah Hughes, Anchorage Daily News, 29 Apr. 2022 Customers want to feel like they’re being taken care of with the benefits of both automation (immediate service available 24/7) and human service (with all of its tribal knowledge and nuance). James Duez, Forbes, 21 Apr. 2022 In its pursuit of big drama located inside an even bigger picture, Anatomy of a Scandal sacrifices intimacy and nuance. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 Apr. 2022 Those kind of pipes don’t often come with taste and nuance. Kimi Robinson, The Arizona Republic, 11 Apr. 2022 In the novel, hope for democracy rests on a careful examination of the American desire for origins and, ultimately, a rejection of tribalism and ease in favor of deliberation, diversity, and nuance. Annie Abrams, The New Republic, 30 Mar. 2022 There’s not enough time or nuance to lend numerous narrative turnabouts plausibility. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 3 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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

Learn More About nuance

Listen to Our Podcast About nuance

Dictionary Entries Near nuance

NU

nuance

nuanced

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

16 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Nuance.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nuance. Accessed 20 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on nuance

Nglish: Translation of nuance for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nuance for Arabic Speakers

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Which Word Does Not Belong?

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

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!