nuance

noun
nu·ance | \ˈnü-ˌän(t)s, 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, 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

This experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to the context and the nuance of editorial liberties. Alex Ritman, The Hollywood Reporter, "Henry Cavill Apologizes for "Misunderstanding" Over #MeToo Comments," 12 July 2018 This experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to the context and the nuance of editorial liberties. Gina Martinez, Time, "Henry Cavill Apologizes For #MeToo Comments: 'Insensitivity Was Absolutely Not My Intention'," 12 July 2018 But the Times report includes considerable new detail and nuance. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "Controversial Google Military AI Contract Fuels AI Regulation Debate," 30 May 2018 Located nowhere in actual history or geography (or, maybe, human experience), a cinematic universe need not be limited by cultural specificity or nuance. Stephen Metcalf, The New Yorker, "How Superheroes Made Movie Stars Expendable," 19 May 2018 Come Back Inn’s take is a worthy one and its use of herbs and spice adds depth and nuance to the dish. Lindsey Mcclave, The Courier-Journal, "Review: Italian-American food at Come Back Inn is indulgent, rich and cheesy," 17 Jan. 2018 The nuance in this research is why do people ignore warnings. Neil Senturia, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Why don't we heed risk warnings?," 9 July 2018 Cybersecurity is an incredibly complex topic -- and the nuances are sometimes hard to get across in the headlines or in politicial punditry. Derek Hawkins, Washington Post, "The Cybersecurity 202: Voters' distrust of election security is just as powerful as an actual hack, officials worry," 5 June 2018 The detail with which the author records their thoughts and interactions offers the ultimate in movie direction, so reliant on close-ups and on nuances of facial expression. Eve Macsweeney, Vogue, "Ian McEwan and Saoirse Ronan Make Movie Magic (Again) in On Chesil Beach," 24 May 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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Dictionary Entries near nuance

n-type

nu

NU

nuance

nub

Nuba

nubber

Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

9 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for nuance

The first known use of nuance was in 1781

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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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Comments on nuance

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