noun nu·ance \ ˈnü-ˌän(t)s , ˈnyü- , -ˌäⁿs ; nü-ˈän(t)s , nyü- , -ˈäⁿs \
|Updated on: 14 Aug 2018

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


play \ˈnü-ˌän(t)st, ˈnyü-; nü-ˈän(t)st, nyü-\ adjective

nuance was our Word of the Day on 09/10/2012. Hear the podcast!

Examples of nuance in a Sentence

  1. 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'HaganNew York Review27 Apr. 2006
  2. 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 HitchensVanity FairJanuary 2002
  3. 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 AdamsThe Education of Henry Adams1907
  4. He listened to the subtle nuances in the song.

  5. a poem of little depth and nuance

Recent Examples of nuance from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

NUANCE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of nuance for English Language Learners

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

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